Environment & Science

El Niño is strengthening. Will it mean rain?

El Nino
El Nino
nasa.gov

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The El Niño weather pattern, which was declared in March, has strengthened in recent weeks, increasing government forecasters’ confidence that conditions will remain in place throughout the winter. Recent developments also indicate that it will be a strong event.

 “We are very confident that this will persist through the winter now into the spring, somewhere 80-90 percent likelihood that will happen. And we are now favoring a strong event for later on this year,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association ‘s Climate Prediction Center.

A winter presence is significant, because that is the rainy season for California, and strong El Niño events in the past have correlated with years of heavier rain in the state.

Halpert, though, cautioned that even if a strong El Niño develops, it isn’t a guarantee of precipitation.

“Historically, the stronger El Niño events have generally been associated with wet winters in California — not 100 percent. There was one case that was not wet, so it’s not a promise, not a slam dunk, so to speak,” he said. “But certainly, the stronger this event becomes, based on our understanding of the phenomena, the more likely it becomes that you guys should see a wetter-than-average winter next year.”

Though the current El Niño won’t be classified as weak, moderate or strong until after it has passed, Halpert said indications show it will be among the top 25 percent of events.

“This would certainly put it in the top, you know, probably quarter of events,” he said. “The real interest and question is does it make it higher up in the rankings, you know, does this become one of the two or three strongest events? The jury’s still out."

At any rate, the current trend of a strengthening El Niño shows more promise than this time last year, when forecasters were downgrading predictions one would develop.

“It was really around this time during the month of July that things started to collapse on us,” Halpert said.