By Paul Rogers
Posted: 01/14/2016 – 05:42:25 PM PST

Don’t even think about putting that umbrella away.

El Niño conditions may have peaked in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists said Thursday, but powerful weather systems — like a new series of storms on track to soak the greater Bay Area over the next five days — have only just begun and will likely continue at least through May.

“This is the time of year when El Niño acts the most reliably,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland. “So we would certainly expect the impacts to continue well through the rest of the winter and into the early part of the spring.”

There is a 96 percent chance that El Niño conditions will remain through March, scientists at NOAA and Columbia University reported Thursday, and a 62 percent probability they will continue through May.

Simply put, that means the likelihood of regular storms across California and heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada will continue to be greater this year than in regular years, offering hope that 2016 may finally be the year that the state’s four-year drought — now starting its fifth year — is broken.

But, experts caution, a lot more rain and snow is needed.

On Thursday, the government’s weekly “drought monitor” update showed that 69 percent of California remains in extreme drought, barely changed from three months ago, when it was 71 percent. The scale measures more than 40 indicators, from soil moisture to snowpack to reservoir levels.

“The likelihood of eliminating a drought of this magnitude in one winter is possible, but historically speaking we don’t see it that often,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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