El Nino

Satellite images comparing Oct. 1, 2015, and Oct. 2, 1997, show large areas of white, which indicate high sea levels — a reflection of high sea temperatures. The images show how this year’s El Nino could be as powerful as the one in 1997, the strongest El Nino on record. (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Rong-Gong Lin II
October 9, 2015

An El Niño that is among the strongest on record is gaining strength in the Pacific Ocean, and climate scientists say California is likely to face a wet winter.

“There’s no longer a possibility that El Niño wimps out at this point. It’s too big to fail,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

“And the winter over North America is definitely not going to be normal,” he said.

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Just three weeks ago, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center raised the odds of California getting doused with a wetter-than-average winter. Southern California now has more than a 60% chance of a wet winter, a 33% chance of a normal winter and less than a 7% chance of a dry winter.

The importance of the El Niño storm of 1997-1998 is now coming into focus as scientists say the weather pattern is returning to Southern California with a vengeance.

The odds of a wet winter further north are increasing too. San Francisco has more than a 40% chance of a wet winter, 33% chance of a normal winter and less than a 27% chance of a dry winter.

Scientists know that El Niño is getting stronger because of rising sea-level ocean temperatures in the Pacific west of Peru, and a change in directions of the wind along the equator that allow warm waters to surge toward the Americas.

“The trade winds are weakening yet again. That should strengthen this El Niño,” Patzert said.

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