El Nino

By Josh Richman
Posted: 11/13/2015 – 05:17:09 AM PST
Updated: 11/13/2015 – 05:17:20 AM PST

Bone-dry California remains on track to get a drenching this winter from the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, federal scientists said in new projections released Thursday.

The experts still believe “that this El Niño could rank among the top three strongest episodes” on record, bringing average or above-average rains to the entire state. Pacific Ocean temperatures driving the phenomenon aren’t expected to return to normal until late spring or early summer, adds the report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“We expect it to remain strong through the winter,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said Thursday.

El Niño is a disruption in the Pacific’s ocean temperatures and weather patterns over the Pacific.

“This is about 7 or 8 million square miles of overheated ocean directly south of us. That’s about two and a half times the size of the continental United States,” said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “And that very, very large pool of warm water is pumping tremendous energy into the overlying atmosphere and changing all the pieces on the weatherboard across the planet.

“If you’re doing long-range forecasting, in your career this is as close as you’ll ever get to a sure thing,” Patzert said. “It’s totally unanimous now: This thing is a monster and it’s here, so fasten your seat belt.”

Seasonal outlooks will be updated next week, Halpert said, and “my guess is that we still will give the best chance to see a wet winter in the southern part of the state, but we will probably still favor a wetter-than-average winter in the northern part.”

That’s important because most of California’s big reservoirs are in the state’s northern half, and they remain at only a fraction of their normal levels after four years of devastating drought.

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