According to scientists, drought-stricken California could see relief from a growing El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean, while on the East Coast, the trend is toward a below-normal Atlantic hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting that this El Niño could be among the strongest in the historical record dating from 1950 and that means rain — lots of it — for California.
El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean continue to gain momentum with rising temperatures, which historically should translate to desperately needed wet winter weather on the West Coast. However, climatologists caution against a perfect solution to the long drought.
“It’s very unlikely that things will develop exactly as we’re hoping for,” Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, told the San Jose Mercury News. “In some areas the drought might be over, and in some areas it might be worse than others.”
It could be worse because big storms might bring a deluge to southern California, but miss northern California, which is enduring drought conditions that are more extreme. Many of the state’s most important reservoirs are in the north, from Shasta to Oroville to Folsom.
“If we get a lot of rain, but it doesn’t get north of Interstate 80, it won’t put as big a dent in the drought,” said Jan Null, a Saratoga meteorologist.
In a report by the New York Times, Daniel Swain, a doctoral candidate at Stanford who runs the respected California Weather Blog, said the current El Niño, along with unusual warming in the northern Pacific, will produce what is “very likely to be the warmest year on record.”
Meanwhile on the East Coast, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s updated 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook calls for a 90 percent chance of a below-normal hurricane season. A below-normal season is now even more likely than predicted in May, when the likelihood of a below-normal season was 70 percent.
“Tropical storms and hurricanes can and do strike the United States, even in below-normal seasons and during El Niño events,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Regardless of our call for below-normal storm activity, people along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts should remain prepared and vigilant, especially now that the peak months of the hurricane season have started.”
Two tropical storms already have struck the United States this year. Ana made landfall in South Carolina in May, and Bill made landfall in Texas in June.
The 90 percent probability of a below-normal season is the highest confidence level given by NOAA since seasonal hurricane outlooks began in 1998.