Scientists on Thursday continued to scale back predictions that a developing El Niño climate pattern could bring heavy rain and snow to drought-parched California this winter.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center issued a report on Thursday morning that showed subsurface ocean temperatures are cooling in some areas while surface temperatures, particularly in the Eastern Pacific, are warmer than average. Given the findings, scientists still predict there's a 70 percent chance that an El Niño will develop this summer. But they're saying it's likely to be weak to moderate -- a downgrade from predictions of a moderate event in June.
Adding to the downgrade, experts said atmospheric conditions consistent with El Niño events have not materialized.
“We haven’t really seen the shifts in tropical rainfall, and sea level pressure, and the winds that would really highlight that a full-blown El Niño has developed,” said Mike Halpert, acting director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
The report also said that scientists are now predicting that if an El Niño does occur, it will be of weak-to-moderate strength.
“While we’re not ruling out a stronger event, at this time it appears less likely that this will be a real strong event,” Halpert said.
That is bad news for those hoping a strong El Niño event would bring an increased likelihood of a wet winter. Historically, weak-to-moderate El Niños have meant there's an equal chance for either an above-average, average or below-average rainfall year.
“When it comes to weak-to-moderate El Niño events, it’s kind of like flipping a coin,” said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
Boldt said that though it’s likely an El Niño will still occur, even if it does bring more rainfall, it won’t be enough to bring dry conditions back to normal.
“When you hear the words ‘El Niño,’ don’t automatically assume that we’re going to be really refilling all of our reservoirs and getting back to what we were before this drought started," Boldt said. "It’s important to remember we still need to conserve and think about the drought situation right now.”