(CN) – Rising temperatures in the Pacific Ocean continue to reinforce the brewing El Nino “Godzilla” that forecasters said Thursday could rival the strongest on record.
According to the latest climate update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 90 percent chance that El Nino will continue through winter as conditions are similar to prior El Nino years that brought massive amounts of rainfall to California.
While forecasters are wary to predict the exact impact El Nino could have this fall because of a persistent high-pressure ridge off the coast of California, they say it’s beginning to resemble large El Nino winters of 1997-98 and 1982-83 which wreaked havoc on the state.
A strengthening El Nino in the summer of 1997 dumped double the amount of annual rainfall and snow across California and caused officials to declare 35 of the Golden State’s 58 counties disaster areas. Los Angeles received nearly a year’s worth of rainfall in February 1998 and El Nino was blamed for almost $500 million in economic damages.
Temperatures in key indicator areas in the Pacific Ocean continue to warm, particularly off the coast of Peru. Scientists use Peru as a benchmark location and on Aug. 5 temperatures were 3.4 degrees warmer than average, compared with 3.2 degrees in August 1997.
An El Nino event is declared when water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean rise above normal for three consecutive months, and they typically occur every two to seven years. While El Nino patterns often bring above-normal rainfall to Southern California, the impact on Northern California is unpredictable.
The best-case scenario for California would be a strong El Nino that brings snow to the Sierra Nevadas and rain to Northern California as it did in 1997, when Sacramento received 32 inches of rain – nearly twice its yearly total.
NOAA meteorologist Tom Di Liberto said next month forecasters will have a better idea on the impact El Nino could have on the drought-parched West Coast.
“As we get closer to this winter, you can expect to see the probabilities grow stronger in some areas,” Di Liberto said, referring to the agency’s three-month forecast. “In fact, the probabilities have already increased compared to previous winter forecasts made a month ago.”
A notorious high-pressure ridge nicknamed “The Blob” by forecasters has consistently blocked potent storms from reaching California over the last four years, contributing to its historic drought. The blob could continue to stand in the way of much-needed rainfall for the Golden State this winter, but forecasters can’t predict yet whether it will remain over the West Coast and Alaska, Di Liberto said.
“If a ridge of high pressure sets up over that area during the winter it could certainly impact potential rainfall in California,” Di Liberto said.
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