El Nino Heat Map

By Paul Rogers
progers@mercurynews.com
Posted: 07/10/2015 – 06:38:27 AM PDT

As Pacific Ocean temperatures continue to warm and trade winds shift, federal scientists now say that the El Niño weather event that’s emerging could be one of the strongest on record.

With California desperate for relief from its punishing four-year drought, the trend is significantly increasing the chances that storms will drench the state this winter, according to a new report released by federal scientists Thursday. And scientists say the conditions are lining up in ways not seen since the winter of 1997-98, when downpours filled reservoirs and sent rivers raging during the last major El Niño.

“That’s good news for California,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director for NOAA’s climate prediction center in College Park, Maryland. “There are obviously no guarantees, but above-normal rainfall is becoming more likely.”

The chances are now “greater than 90 percent” that El Niño conditions that began in March will remain through this winter, according to the monthly El Niño report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s up from 85 percent last month and 50 percent from four months ago.

“We are on the right path now. We want to see it continue to strengthen and build — and certainly to not weaken any time before the new year,” said California’s state climatologist, Michael Anderson, who is with the state Department of Water Resources.

El Niño is a disruption in the weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean, when the ocean’s surface warms more than normal. Those warm waters release heat, changing wind directions and the jet stream.

Strong El Niños, which occur when the Pacific Ocean is the warmest, have historically been linked to wet weather in California and South America — and droughts in Australia and Asia.

As El Niño conditions have continued to grow this year, Peru in recent weeks declared an El Niño emergency, warning of flooding that could begin there this summer. Citigroup and the United Nations have issued warnings about potential price spikes in wheat and other food staples that would result from reduced harvests in Australia and other countries.

To be sure, California’s next rainy season won’t start in earnest for five more months.

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