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Historic El Niño May Unleash Severe Storms Across Drought-Stricken California

5 months ago
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California is still awaiting the start of its vital wet season, but meteorologists say the delayed rains could get a significant boost from a potentially historic El Niño event gathering strength in the Pacific Ocean.

The major winter storms that the Golden State depends on for its water supply and snowpack typically begin arriving in late fall.

So far this year, however, the wet season is off to an exceptionally dry start throughout most of California. But forecasters say the powerful El Niño climate pattern should help crank up Pacific storm activity in the weeks ahead, bringing hopes of drought relief.

There are already signs of an active pattern taking shape for late December into January.

While optimistic the state will eventually see good soaking rains, meteorologists caution that El Niño’s effects can be unpredictable. Cooler than normal waters lingering off Hawaii have so far deflected the storm track southward, missing California.

If this zone of cooler seas persists, it could continue limiting storms even as El Niño strengthens. But climate experts say there’s more than a 50% chance this El Niño might end up ranking among the strongest ever recorded.

Such an extreme event could override the cool patch and drive an exceptionally wet winter for California.

Incoming Weather Pattern Hints at Shift

There are encouraging indications California’s dry spell may break soon, with model guidance showing the jet stream pattern becoming more active as December progresses.

A weak weather system this weekend should provide light precipitation across the state's northern half. More significantly, meteorologists are monitoring the potential for a much wetter storm around December 19-20.

This storm could tap an atmospheric river of deep tropical moisture while aimed squarely at California. Heavy coastal rainfall looks possible along with high-elevation snow, a welcome shift after this fall's nearly bone-dry conditions across most of the state.

Beyond next week, forecast confidence decreases, but signs point toward additional Pacific storms as December wraps up. The evolving El Niño is expected to crank up subtropical jet stream energy over the next month, driving an active pattern of wet weather systems into California.

Meteorologists say it’s not a question of if but when major drought-denting storms will strike. While the start of the rainy season has stalled, they believe California will still likely see significant precipitation this winter as El Niño potentially builds to extreme levels.


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