El Niño to come late to SoCal, experts say

Here’s a story that ran almost two weeks ago in the Ojai Valley News, but remains relevant, says me.

A team of scientists from Columbia University presenting climate research last week estimated that the El Niño warming event currently building in the Pacific Ocean will bring above-average rainfall to Southern California but later in the year than has been previously reported, likely from February to April.

“El Niño’s impacts are likely to be stronger in late winter than in early winter,” said Bor-Ting Jong, of the university’s Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory, presenting a climatological and oceanographic paper at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco.

Richard Seager, who leads a research team which includes Jong at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory, estimated that sea surface temperature conditions observed in the equatorial Pacific to date as part of the El Niño would result in a water year of about 160 percent of normal rainfall for Southern California.

El Niños alter storm tracks around the globe: strong events usually bring substantial rain to Southern California.

“There’s a good chance of substantial drought relief in the later half of this winter,” Seager said.

The Ojai area has received one good storm, which caused much excitement, and which has revived a gazillion local plants, but we’re still well short of enough saturation to get the streams running.

What’s interesting to me is that although the mechanics involved are complex, the essential idea — to look at a correlation between sea surface temperatures in a certain region of the Pacific, and correlate those with the intensity of precipitation in Southern California — is actually rather straightforward.

Which is why this take on the still-developing El Niño is news, arguably.

“To get California really wet you need a strong El Niño event late in the winter,” Seager noted. He pointed out that although Southern California hasn’t had a great deal of rain as of yet, that fits the pattern established by the only two El Niño events comparable in oceanic strength to this year’s, which are l982-l983 and l997-l998.

Also greatly enjoyed the chance to speak with the eminent Richard Seager. In the press room at the AGU. I admitted to him that I could only admire his ability to keep all these complex factors of climatology in his head and he said (words to this effect) that it was a lot more interesting than the household budget. Like that.

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