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California Drought: El Niño Won’t End Dry Times In California

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and meteorologists in other countries show that strong-to-moderate El Niño conditions are present in the tropical Pacific. But it won't end the drought in California. 

The Climate Prediction Center says there is an approximately 80 percent chance that El Niño will continue through 2015 in the Northern Hemisphere.

The sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific have risen above their normal temperature, creating the conditions that can bring record heat to some continents and more rain to others, like the U.S.

"El Niño does not guarantee that we're going to see record-breaking rainfall or a drought ending year, said Michelle Mead, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “It just means there is some potential to see some above-average precipitation. And that's really the indication that we have right now. El Niño is expected to continue but the exact strength and the impending impacts are unknown at this time.” 

Mead said El Niño is not a good predictor of rain and snow in Northern California. 

"It's [El Niño] most prevalent across Southern California,” said Mead. “But unfortunately, the reservoirs, and where the water supply is for California, is located in Northern California. Not only do we need the rain, but we need lower snow levels too.” 

The Sierra Nevada snowpack hit a record low in winter 2014-15 and the snowpack in the Oregon and Washington Cascades was well below normal too.

Mead said people should not place too much emphasis on the early El Niño forecast. She said in May 2014, the potential for El Niño also ranged from strong to neutral. 

“And we all know how last winter panned out where the El Nino didn't arrive until the spring months and by that time it was too late,” Mead pointed out. “The forecast is just that, it's a forecast, it's not a guarantee. And it's not something that we should all be banking on to end our drought.  We need to be diligent in our conservation efforts.” 

The next El Niño forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is mid-June. Mead said June through August forecasts may provide a better indication of the strength of El Niño.


 droughtEl NinoDrought 2015

Ed Joyce

Former All Things Considered Anchor & Reporter

Ed Joyce is a former reporter and All Things Considered news anchor at Capital Public Radio. Ed is a veteran journalist with experience in a variety of news positions across all media platforms, including radio, television, web and print.   Read Full Bio