El Niño 2015: The Missing Ingredient

So much has been made of this year’s El Niño.Torrential rain, heavy snow, mudslides. Etc.True we are looking at record sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific near South America.This type of weather pattern occurs every three to seven years or so.This year is especially warm. But Climatologist Mike Halpert, deputy director for the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says, “Even if the ocean temperatures are exactly the same (as in a powerful El Niño year) that doesn’t mean the impacts will be."

Wait? What? 2015 won’t be as bad at the 1997-98 El Niño ? The drought won’t end ?

So far we know that the period from October 15 to December 1 was much drier here in California than it was back in 1997-98. In fact, areas in the Bay Area which normally see twice the rainfall we see here in Southern California have only seen 1/5th the amount of rain they saw 18 years ago.  The mountain ranges are faring slightly better.  Early season Snow storms have left ski resorts happy from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth. 

But here in Southern California.Those winter storms have yet to come. Snow has been hard to come by except for the man-made stuff.  Rainfall so far in Downtown Los Angeles?  Way down this year.  Since October 1st, the start of the annual rainfall season – Downtown has only received .67” of rain. Normal is 2.47”. Do the math and we are down 1.80” despite our couple of recent storms.

So what are we missing?  It has to do with the atmosphere. For high rainfall the air in the tropics needs to take up lots more moisture.  That helps produce higher rainfall across the equator which often translates to unusually warm and wet conditions in the U.S. 

The problem ? So far, that high atmospheric moisture simply isn’t happening the way it did 1997-98.  This time around, the atmosphere in the tropics is much drier which means comparing this El Niño to the last simply isn’t correct. 

Will this Winter be wetter? Yes, in some areas certainly.  Southern California ? Only time will tell. Will this winter be warmer?  Again, in some areas, yes. Again only time will tell.

As I have said in the past – Forecasting Weather more than a week or two out is dicey at best.  Yes, we have the Warm Waters in the Eastern Pacific, but without the 2nd ingredient (Atmospheric Moisture) – 2015-16 may not be the Big One many are planning and hoping for.  Again, only time will tell.

I guess – for now at least no need to freak out or overplay it as Chris Farley did in this viral video You Tube clip from SNL back during that buzz word of the 1990s “EL Niño."

Enjoy!

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