El Nino

A federal drought expert said on Friday that California’s drought, its worst in decades, is likely to hold steady through the summer months and may not ease in the fall even with an anticipated El Nino…

By Paul Rogers
progers@mercurynews.com
Posted: 08/07/2014 06:00:00 AM PDT30 Comments
Updated: 08/07/2014 12:06:35 PM PDT

A powerful El Niño that had been emerging in the Pacific Ocean is fizzling out, evaporating hopes it will deliver a knockout punch to California’s three-year drought.

A new report from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decreases the probability of an El Niño — the condition that occurs when warm Pacific Ocean water at the equator affects the jet stream — to 65 percent starting in October, down from 82 percent in June.

More significantly, researchers said, the ocean water that had been warming steadily through the spring has cooled off in recent months. Most of the world’s leading meteorological organizations now say that if an El Niño arrives this winter, it is likely to be a weak or moderate one — not the kind historically linked with wetter-than-normal winters in California.

“It’s fair to say that it’s plateaued,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist with the NOAA Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Other researchers are more blunt.

“We’re back to square one. It’s finished. I don’t think we even have an El Niño any more,” said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s 75 percent that we’ll have another dry winter,” he said. “The unfortunate fact is that it looks like the last three years all over again.”

To be sure, California could still have a wet winter to help fill depleted reservoirs, replenish streams and raise over-pumped water tables.

If a steady series of low-pressure systems develops off the Pacific Coast later in the year, that could bring tropical storms dumping rain in large amounts. The trend, known as an “atmospheric river” or “Pineapple Express,” has soaked the state in the past. But it has been all but shut down over the past three years as unusually persistent ridges of high pressure off the coast pushed winter storms north to Canada instead.

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