What Does a Strong El Nino Mean for California?

SnowBrains | | WeatherWeather
California's Sierra Nevada mountains from space.
California’s Sierra Nevada mountains from space.

What does El Nino mean for California?

We consulted NOAA and Weather West and it looks like El Nino in California should mean higher than average precipitation with near average temperatures. We like the sound of that.

Map showing the strong El Nino that is forming in the Pacific.
Map showing the strong El Nino that is forming in the Pacific on May 3rd and 4th, 2014.

What Does EL NINO Mean for CALIFORNIA?

“If El Niño returns, the American West and Southwest could see major relief next winter from the long-lasting, punishing drought.” – Climatologist Bill Patzert, who has been studying El Niño via satellite for two decades from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Strong El Nino's impact on North America.  CA lookin' good.
Strong El Nino’s impact on North America. CA lookin’ GOOD.

“A strong East Pacific El Niño event would likely strengthen the subtropical branch of the jet stream just west of California during the canonical wet season [ie Winter 2014/15]. This would direct the storm track squarely into Central and Southern California, most likely leading to above-normal precipitation in these regions (and perhaps in far Northern California, as well). In addition, the occurrence of individual high-intensity storms and rainfall events would probably be higher than during a typical winter due to the proximity of the storm track to California. Thus, the risk of flooding may be higher during such an El Niño event, especially in Southern California.”

“Cool-season temperatures are a bit tricky, as the enhanced cloudiness associated with active storm track would allow for less solar heating to occur during a typical winter, leading to cool temperatures on most days. On the other hand, strong west-to-east flow would might act to inhibit the occurrence of cold air outbreaks associated with a high-amplitude, north-south oriented jet stream—making frost/freeze events less likely. Thus, winter temperatures may be near average overall (but with fewer very cold days).” – weather west

El Nino explained.
El Nino explained.


For California to get an extra wet winter, we need El Nino’s maximum ocean warming to occur closer to Asia than to America…

“For California specifically, one of the most important factors in characterizing the likely effects a particular El Niño event is the longitude at which the maximum ocean warming occurs. In general, however, El Niño impacts in California become larger and more predictable for events in which the ocean warming is centered in the far East Pacific. A key point to remember, though, is that El Niño does not guarantee a wet winter in California. In fact, there’s even some indication that certain Central Pacific El Niño events may even lead to drier-than-average winters.” – weather west

El Nino VS La Nina
El Nino VS La Nina.  Both are Good for Northern California.  Squaw got a record 811″ during La Nina 2011.

Fortunately, the current El Nino is shaping up to be an East Pacific centered event.  Woo Hoo!

KT-22 in 2011.  Hopefully, it looks like this next year.
KT-22 in 2011. Hopefully, it looks like this next year.

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