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Researchers Watch El Niño Prospects As Dry Conditions In Southern California Persist

Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is c...

Credit: NOAA

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.

El Niño prospects are growing in the Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency stated there’s a nearly 50 percent likelihood the weather phenomenon, which can bring heavy rains to Southern California, will develop this fall.

But the other 50 percent projects neutral conditions, similar to this year.

Photo credit: NOAA

Probability of an El Nino developing in 2014 by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Another group of global researchers is predicting an even bigger chance an El Niño event could occur in 2014. In a study published in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers stated there’s a 75 percent chance for an El Niño, and that the event could push the global temperature to its highest level on record by next year, exceeding the previous record of 1998, set during an El Niño year.

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.

“Even if we do have the El Niño, it’s not destiny,” said Edward Aguado, professor of geography at San Diego State University. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to have a wet winter next year; it favors a wet winter but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Aguado said we’re in a wait and see pattern.

“One thing that we typically get with an El Niño is more of these pineapple express storms,” said Aguado. “So instead of our usual cold storms that come out of the golf of Alaska, we get systems that flow up from Hawaii.

“The storms are warmer so they bring less snowpack — you get more in the way of rain than you do of snow,” he added.

Meanwhile, dry conditions are continuing in Southern California, with temperatures this week pushing 20 degrees above average. The unseasonable summer-like weather is expected to break down this weekend, bringing a slight chance for rain by late next week.

But Aguado said overall, the winter outlook remains dry.

“What we’re going to see is something in between a ridge and a trough, where the air is — instead of meandering north and south as it goes across the atmosphere — it’s basically going to go west to east — what we call a zonal pattern,” said Aguado. “So it’s not going to be as bright and sunny as we’ve had but it’s not going to do what we really need which is bring some storms for us.”

Downtown San Diego has received a third of an inch of rain so far in 2014, and just 2.6 Inches of rain since July 1. That puts the region 3.6 inches below normal for the season.


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