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Climate Researchers Issue El Niño Watch

Above: Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Niña by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Anomalies represent deviations from normal temperature values, with unusually warm temperatures shown in red and unusually cold anomalies shown in blue.

Aired 6/12/12 on KPBS News.

Climate researchers say an El Niño looks to be brewing in the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Niño watch, saying there’s a 50 percent likelihood the weather phenomenon will develop this fall.

El Niño is a warming of ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific that occurs about every four to 12 years. It can cause above-average rainfall in San Diego as well as potentially damaging waves along the coast.

“I would expect that if we continue to see things evolving as we have over the past few months, that the probability of El Niño would increase as we go forward. And like I said, we anticipate that it will probably develop in the fall,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Halpert said the forecast comes on the heels of La Niña, which is blamed for record warm winter and spring temperatures across the nation, and dryer than average conditions in San Diego.

“While the country’s been fairly warm, San Diego has actually been on the cool side because the climate is so dependent on the ocean temperatures right off the coast. And given the La Niña that we had last winter and in the spring, ocean temperatures, and they continue this way along coastal California -- are still below average,” he said.

Halpert said summer temperatures in San Diego are expected to be about average along the coast, and warmer than average inland.

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