Federal meteorologists Thursday morning released their latest snapshot of the El Niño climate pattern developing in the eastern Pacific Ocean and said it's still on track to be one of the strongest in recorded history.
The report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said water temperatures in a key part of the equatorial Pacific were above average by as much as three degrees centigrade in November -- warmer than temperatures in November 1997 in the run-up to that winter's record El Niño event.
At the same time, east-to-west winds have weakened allowing more of that warm water to reach the west coast of the Americas.
Those warm waters are setting up California — and Southern California in particular — for a wet, stormy winter.
NOAA forecasters say nearly all of California should prepare for above average precipitation. What's still unclear though is how much of that will fall as rain or snow in the parts of California key to the state's water supply. Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains acts as a natural reservoir and typically provides a third of the water the state uses in an average year.
In the meantime, federal disaster officials have released guidelines for state and local leaders on how to prepare for potential emergencies. In a report released Wednesday, officials with FEMA said California needs to be ready for possible record flooding along the coast, landslides in recent burn areas, and storm water flooding in cities. The biggest El Niño to date — the one in 1997-98 — caused nearly $900 million in damages in California and claimed 17 lives.