State climatologist: Don’t count on El Niño to end drought

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — There’s an enormous El Niño system forming over the Pacific Ocean that will bring torrential downpours this winter to the drought-stricken west coast. The deluge of rain is expected to bring lots of flooding — among other wet weather-related hazards — but it may not be enough to end California’s drought.

As the state faces a fifth year of severe drought heading into a new water year (October 1 to September 30), questions mount on what can be expected of winter temperatures, precipitation and snowpack for California, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

At least one state official warns don’t expect much.

“California cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions. Historical weather data shows us that at best, there is a 50/50 chance of having a wetter winter. Unfortunately, due to shifting climate patterns, we cannot even be that sure,” said State Climatologist Michael Anderson.

Recently released images showing unusually warm sea surface temperatures add to mounting evidence suggesting that a powerful El Niño, which began forming last winter, may soon bring above-average rainfall for California and ease the state’s four year drought.

“We’re predicting a strong El Niño,” said Maureen O’Leary, National Weather Service spokesperson.

The last really good El Nino winter was in 1997-98.

There is a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85 percent chance it will last into early spring 2016.

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