El Nino

Federal forecasters said Thursday, Nov. 19, that the El Niño weather pattern will likely provide some relief to California’s four-year drought this winter. (Photo: Alexander, Kurtis L)

By Kurtis Alexander
Thursday, November 19, 2015 – Updated 9:12 pm

Federal forecasters said Thursday, Nov. 19, that the El Niño weather pattern will likely provide some relief to California’s four-year drought this winter.

After four years of unrelenting drought, nearly all of California is likely to see at least some relief this winter, federal climate experts said Thursday, offering a first real message of hope for the bone-dry state.

Most of the potential drought-breaking storms won’t come until early next year, the scientists said. But enough rain and snow have fallen in recent weeks that, combined with growing optimism about El Niño, ski resorts have opened early in Tahoe and some Northern California communities have begun to ease their rigid water restrictions.

Another bout of wet weather is due to arrive just before Thanksgiving, possibly even delivering snow to Bay Area hills, though the system is forecast to be short-lived.

In Thursday’s long-term weather outlook, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center boosted the odds — again — of above-average precipitation gracing California between January and March. The El Niño pattern behind the forecast is expected to drive enough moisture toward the West Coast that water shortages and crop losses will begin to recede from the Mexico border almost all the way to Oregon.

“We are favoring some improvement, not removal, but some improvement,” said Jon Gottschalck, an operations chief at the Climate Prediction Center who has been tracking the drought.

Gottschalck, along with the state’s top water managers, has cautioned Californians to remain vigilant about conservation. Most of the state, they say, will remain in some stage of drought even if the rainy season lives up to expectations.

Severe dry spell

But those expectations are stark. Not since the winter of 2010-11 has California seen an average amount of precipitation during its wet season. The lull has thrust the state into what climate experts call an “exceptional drought,” the most severe category.

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