“The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfillment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall.”
~ Helen Garner, Australian writer
“There is going to be an El Niño this winter.” “We going to have a lot of rain this winter.” “Maybe the drought will end; scientists are predicting a good El Niño this year. The weatherman said the 2015-16 rainy season will be a wet one.” “Last year it was supposed to be really rainy, but look what happened – more drought!” “I don’t think they know what they are talking about!”
So the comments and accusations go on and on. Are meteorologists, climatologists and experts in the field of weather able to predict an El Niño and its potentially historical rain amounts? Many of us are quick to judge without understanding the complexity of an El Niño event.
Before tackling the above subject, what is the current weather (and temperatures!) up to? Much warmer than I expected! But nevertheless, summer perfection defines the past week – clear skies, days reaching into the 90s and cool nights. Contrary to the NWS’ prediction the foggy marine layer backed off and stayed primarily along the coast. For several days now, an onshore flow has ushered gusty southwest winds across our foothills. The cooler afternoon and evening hours are due to these ocean breezes. More tropical-type weather is expected for the upcoming weekend.
On to El Niño predicting … The attempt and resulting conclusion or answer could be compared to solving an algebraic equation containing too many variables. The 2015-16 ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) – with an accompanying increased precipitation – is just one component in this very difficult equation or problem. The standout variable is the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation). The PDO is similar to El Niño but is located in our part of the Pacific Ocean and its presence is longer lasting. It has two phases – positive/warm and cool/negative. Currently the surface sea temperatures (SST) are several degrees above normal, meaning a positive PDO is in place. A huge swath of warm water in the North Pacific Ocean, “the blob,” (the name given by climatologist Nick Bond) extends from Mexico to Alaska and is 300 feet deep. Right now it is squished up against the West Coast. The warmer waters are challenging the delicate marine ecosystems. Unusual – exotic and far from home – fish and marine mammals have become common in the coastal waters. On the down side, local sea life residents are taking a hit. Marine biologists report massive die-offs and disturbing health conditions among the populations.
If you find this beyond confusing, as I do, we are in excellent company. In desperation of understanding the connection of the PDO/”blob” and El Niño, I called the National Weather Service in Oxnard. They are a friendly group of brilliant weather scientists always willing to help. They shared that a strong and established El Niño is in place and continues to intensify. Also the warm PDO continues as strong positive.
What did I learn from our conversation? An El Niño and resulting heavy rainfall is complicated to predict. In addition, the added warm PDO, to my understanding, can either intensify an El Niño or keep the jet stream too far north and unable to transport storms our direction. So the current and future weather remains “up in the air” until it is “down to earth!”
Humidity, thunderstorms and heat are key weather words for Southern California, presently and next week. The weekend forecast includes more cloud cover and cooler temperatures; upcoming days bring clear skies and heat.
Needed…water – the main ingredient in iced tea and rain.
Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.