Climate scientists say the indicators are all there for the forming of an El Niño pattern in the Pacific this year, and now it's just a matter of how soon it will fully take shape.
Having just been wallopped with a rainy season to end all rainy seasons, during a La Niña year, the news of a coming El Niño is likely to strike some fear and fatigue into the hearts of many. On the one hand, it'll be great for our state's ongoing drought recovery. But on the other... it could mean a lot more rain.
Our last El Niño year, the winter of 2018/19, was a weak one, and precipitated our last three years of drought.
The prior El Niño just three years earlier, in 2015/2016, was a bit rainy, at least at first. That year's cycle produced a wet December, but it peaked early, save for one early March set of storms, and was generally considered a "bust" after promises of a "Godzilla El Niño" from forecasters.
This year, according to an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a strong warming pattern is happening in the ocean around the equator, and there is now a 82% chance of El Niño forming by July, and and 94% chance by November. Also, there's a near 50% chance that this is going to be a "strong" El Niño year, so brace yourselves.
As Bay Area News Group notes today, while so-called "strong" El Niño seasons do typically mean dumpings of rain for the Bay Area — the winter of '97/'98 would be the last "strong" one — El Niños can otherwise be a mixed bag for us. Being close to the geographic center of the California coast, we may either see a drier-than-average season like the Pacific Northwest, or a wetter-than-average one like SoCal.
"Overall during all of the [El Niño seasons since 1951], rainfall in Southern California averaged 126% of normal. In the Bay Area it was 109% of normal," the news group writes.
So, going by averages, that means we could see a wettish winter next time around, but nothing like this year's anomaly — which happened during a third consecutive La Niña. Or, if it's a "strong" one, we're in for another doozy of a winter, with all that that will entail.
In other news, the snowmelt in the Sierra has only just begun, and we don't yet know what's in store, flooding-wise, for parts of the Central Valley this spring.
And in still other news, a new study suggests that the big brush fires in Australia between June 2019 and January 2020 likely contributed to the rare triple La Niña seasons we just experienced.