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It’s Official: El Niño For California In 2010

Forecasters Predict Wet Weather Through March

Audio

Aired 1/20/10

The recent wave of storms to hit California is being attributed to El Niño conditions. The National Weather Service long-range forecast has the wet pattern continuing through March.

The recent wave of storms to hit California is being related to El Niño conditions. The National Weather Service long-range forecast has the wet pattern continuing through March.

The storms could help California reach its monthly moisture average by the end of this week.

Bystanders gathered along the beach in Del Mar to watch the huge waves on January 14, 2010.
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Above: Bystanders gathered along the beach in Del Mar to watch the huge waves on January 14, 2010.

Forecasters say next week will bring a break in the storms, but the National Weather Service forecasts wet weather in California from now through March.

El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Tim Barnett is a climatologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He says the series of storms in California are linked to El Niño conditions.

"Yes, it's a classical situation," Barnett said. "The thing that is worrisome is that the current storm coming in really has no legs to the Tropics, it has no moisture source and it's going to be bad enough. The one that's west of Hawaii right now has a very good flow of moisture from the equatorial Pacific up into that storm itself. So it's going to be a very different kind of critter."

Barnett expects the wet trend to continue.

"This week has certainly been more severe than usual, to have this many storms and the jet stream as strong as it is, is unusual. But to have more such events between now and the end of March, I would expect them."

Tuesday's storm even brought tornado warnings to Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. Several reportedly touched down along the coast in Orange County causing minor damage.

Barnett says tornadoes are rare for California and it is less likely that those events will happen with any frequency in the next few months. But he said rain and snow are near certainties.

"We're pretty much locked into the (El Niño) pattern now," Barnett said. "It generally happens from the middle of January to the middle of February. You get about two months from when it locks in to when the El Niño dies and right now it doesn't show any signs of dying."

Water managers welcome the wet pattern, but Barnett says even an El Niño winter won't make up for three years of drought.

"It will take some doing for that to happen," said Barnett. "And one could say 'Well, we just got lucky.' Had we not had this we could have easily had another few more years of drought. As you know, water-wise, we're right on the edge anyway and the future in that regard doesn't look bright."

The National Weather Service is predicting a rare storm surge for Southern California through Saturday.

Forecasters predict the storm surge to be higher due to a combination of high surf with 15 to 20-foot breakers, strong south to southwest winds at 25 to 35 mph with gusts greater than 50 mph, overland runoff from heavy rains and high tides just under five feet.

The National Weather Service warns the storm surge will likely cause extensive beach erosion and local overflow into low lying areas in San Diego County including Cardiff, Del Mar and La Jolla.

The storm surge may also cause damage to piers, jetties and sea walls.

Areas affected in Orange County may include Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Sunset Beach. San Diego is expected to dry out over the weekend.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly sunny skies in San Diego and a 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday and mostly sunny on Sunday.

But keep those umbrellas and sandbags handy. More rain is predicted for next Tuesday.

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