Environment & Science

Prospects for El Niño even worse after tame August

Forecasts that an El Niño will develop by winter have fallen to 60-65 percent, according to federal climate scientists.
Forecasts that an El Niño will develop by winter have fallen to 60-65 percent, according to federal climate scientists.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Federal meteorologists have again scaled back forecasts for the development of an El Niño event, the climate phenomenon that brings warmer water to the Pacific — and the potential for rain to California.

The monthly report, released on Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, puts the chances at 60-65 percent that an event will occur by winter. The August report had the chances at around 65 percent.

"It's still somewhat favored, but not with as high a probability as what we had last month," said Mike Halpert, acting director for NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

An El Niño event is a cyclical phenomenon marked by sustained warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Strong events have been tied to increased rainfall years in California. 

Many have hoped that a strong El Niño event would occur this year. However, forecasters now predict that an event would be weak if it occurs. Historically, weak El Niños have correlated with equal numbers of rainy and dry seasons. 

Mark Jackson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said that there's still hope that the coming winter will be rainy, despite a weak or absent El Niño.  

“The last time we really had above average precipitation was with a strong La Niña, and strong La Niñas typically bring dry winters, so explain that one,” Jackson said. "That's the difficult nature of seasonal forecasts."