Weather in the Foothills

“What joy! For one wild, glad moment we snapped the chain that binds us to earth and, joining hands with the winds, we felt ourselves divine!”
– The recollections of tobogganing in the winter
~ Helen Keller, “The Story of My Life”

Oh yes … feelings such as Miss Keller’s abound this time of year. From a myriad of sources they arrive – the anticipation of Advent and Christmas Day, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, schools’ winter breaks and time with family and friends. Not to be forgotten, the season’s weather  brings a certain excitement – even in Southern California. Let the winds blow, the rains fall and the snows blanket our mountains (the lower, the better). This is our winter-weather, and it is all good. But what about El Niño? What happened?

Our hopes of a wetter-than-normal winter seem to have vanished. El Niño, according to climatologists and meteorologists, pulled a disappearing act. During the past summer, weather forecasters were keeping a close eye on what they believed would establish a 70% chance of an El Niño-dominated weather pattern for the 2012-13 rain season. The normally cold ocean current along the Peruvian coast had warmed by 1.2 degrees (and climbing). NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) officially went on “El Niño watch” expecting it to begin in October and last through February. But by mid-September the needed conditions began to unravel. The “perfect combination” of trade wind strength in the Pacific tropical regions and water temperatures off South America just didn’t continue to materialize, they no longer existed. So now what? Well, as always, the weather remains “up in the air.”

The term El Niño is fitting, especially during the Christmas season. In Spanish, el niño, written in lower-case letters, means small boy or child. When written in upper case, it refers to the Christ Child. South American fisherman gave El Niño its name because its timing and effects (the warmer waters and lack of fish) would coincide with the celebration and birth of Jesus – Christmas.

The climactic phenomena was not a welcomed one. The deep warmer waters during an El Niño event interfere with the rich nutrients that normally surface in the upwelling of cold waters. A good catch is impossible without a food source to lure the fish. This occurrence was known by fishermen 200 years ago. Not until  recent years did we understand the science of El Niño and its further reaching impacts.

In the U.S. southwest, an El Niño year brings above average rain totals, oftentimes with damaging results. We have certainly witnessed this in the past. But for now, weather-wise, everything seems about on track for December.

Christmas is quickly approaching and is accompanied by a series of cold storms out of Alaska. Rain and snow (expected at the 3,500 ft. level) have settled in and are expected to continue into next week. So with umbrella in hand and slicker on Abby, we are prepared…  although it sounds cozy just to stay home and bake.

Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service. Reach her at