It’s been one crazy year, as far as temperatures go. The heat has been relentless, making 2015 one of the hottest summers on record. Yet, the extraordinary storm seen in Central California last week—which resulted in mud slides—suggest that one of the wettest winters is also on its way.
Weather experts are urging Californians to prepare for an El Niño winter. El Nino is a weather pattern creates a warming effect in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The weather phenomenon comes every few years, without warning and causes unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere. The southern half of the state is expected to be hardest hit.
The last El Nino weather pattern occurred in 1997-98. Historically, the effect is not usually felt until January and February, although heavy rains could come as early as December and last until spring.
The probability of strong El Niño-related storms continuing through winter is placed at 95 percent by the federal Climate Prediction Center. That is "about as confident as you will ever see in a climate forecast," said the center's Mike Halpert.
Even our northern neighbors in Canada will feel the effects of El Nino. According to Accuweather.com, Western Canadian residents should expect “another winter with above- to well above-normal temperatures, as a prevailing westerly flow delivers Pacific air across the region.”
Compared to last winter, there will be more snow across the coastal mountains of western British Columbia, which includes the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, host of the 2009-2010 Winter Olympics.
Last week in Central California, some 200 vehicles were stuck on highways amid a deluge of water, mud and debris. It was a huge mess, with trailers partly covered in sludge, mobile homes knocked over and damaged houses. In August, flash flooding west of Desert Center washed out a 10 Freeway bridge.
There were six inches of precipitation per hour, according to Tim Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. He is predicting that what happened last week will be the first of a series of storms to come.
Despite the anticipated heavy down pour of rain, however, the drought is not likely to disappear. Experts say the rain will not make up for the lack of precipitation over the past few years. Krantz said, “It (rain) will fill the reservoirs but most of our water supply (80 percent) comes from ground water that needs snow to be replenished.” Because El Nino is based on a warm water system, it is not clear how much snowfall will manifest. Last year, snow fell in California at a record low.
Californians are encouraged to continue practicing water conservation. Recovering from so many low-water years will require more than refilling the state's portfolio of reservoirs, most well under half of capacity.
"One season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought,” Halpert said.