It seems like every couple of years, the folks at NASA or NOAA will issue a press release saying something along the lines of “this year we’ll have the big one” before adding that El Niño may be gearing up to dump devastating rains all over the Americas. The frequency of these predictions seems to have increased in recent years, largely due to the epic drought that has been drying up the Western United States as of late. The people living in these regions are praying for rain, even if it arrives in disastrous proportions, and the media is more than willing to entertain their fantasy.
This year has been no different, with climatologists predicting an El Niño weather pattern that could break records. Of course, making long-term weather forecasts is no easy task, and they’re wrong more often than they’re right. However, based on past climate trends this year looks like it might finally be the one, as climatologists admit that the odds of a devastating El Niño occurring this winter are on the rise.
An El Niño that is among the strongest on record is gaining strength in the Pacific Ocean, and climate scientists say California is likely to face a wet winter.
“There’s no longer a possibility that El Niño wimps out at this point. It’s too big to fail,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.
“And the winter over North America is definitely not going to be normal,” he said.
Just three weeks ago, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center raised the odds of California getting doused with a wetter-than-average winter. Southern California now has more than a 60% chance of a wet winter, a 33% chance of a normal winter and less than a 7% chance of a dry winter.
The odds of a wet winter further north are increasing too. San Francisco has more than a 40% chance of a wet winter, 33% chance of a normal winter and less than a 27% chance of a dry winter.
With rising sea temperatures in the South Pacific, and trade winds that are weaker than normal, all signs are indicating that an unprecedented rainy season is on the horizon. For now though, it’s hard to say how bad it will be. Initial reports suggested that it would be the rainiest El Niño ever recorded, but now some scientists are predicting that it will be the second rainiest.
Whatever the case may be, it’s going to be a doozy, and likely on par with the famous El Niño of 1997. That year saw floods all across North and South America, as well as droughts and disease outbreaks in Africa. It was a global disaster that managed to inflict billions of dollars in damages and untold casualties (by the way, we’re still learning about all the shocking ways that El Niño can kill people). Time will tell if this year has a disaster of those proportions in store for us.