Environment & Science

El Niño? La Niña? Nope. This winter, it's La Nada

The above chart from NOAA indicates a prevailing
The above chart from NOAA indicates a prevailing "La Nada" weather pattern means there's an equal chance for a wet or dry winter in most of the country.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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With all the gray clouds and cooler temperatures this week, it certainly feels like winter's on the way.

But are we in for a wet winter or a dry one?

Scientists can't really say for sure, thanks to a weather pattern sometimes called La Nada, or "the nothing" in Spanish.

Normally, weather forecasters look to a section of the eastern Pacific Ocean for clues about the coming winter.

If waters are warmer than usual, that indicates El Niño conditions. When this happens, California likely sees more rain throughout the winter, especially in the northern parts.

If ocean waters are cooler, then the state is in for a La Niña year. That typically is associated with drier weather for Southern California, says Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager with the California Department of Water Resources.

The problem forecasters are facing this fall is that waters in the ocean aren't especially warm or cold. They're La Nada.

Jones says predicting weather is always a bit like reading a crystal ball, but the more markedly warm or cold the water is, the clearer that imaginary crystal ball would be.

With La Nada's neutral temperatures? Jones says "that's a much cloudier crystal ball to work with."

State weather experts will have to look at other indicators, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and subseasonal patterns to inform their forecasts.

Jones says any seasonal predictions based on those readings are likely to be even less certain than usual.

Winter weather predictions from NOAA