El Niño Officially Declared; May Bring Increased Rain to West Coast

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The banks of Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet are dry and cracked in this photo. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Federal weather watchers on Thursday said the Pacific Ocean current oscillation known as El Niño has formed, raising the prospect of a moderate increase in rain for the U.S. West Coast.

The development is unlikely to have a drastic effect on the drought conditions in Southern California and elsewhere in the West, according to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which issued the El Niño update.

“Based on the persistent observations of above-average sea surface temperatures across the western and central equatorial Pacific Ocean and consistent pattern of sea level pressure, we can now say that El Niño is here,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, and ENSO forecaster. “Many climate prediction models show this weak El Niño continuing into summer.”

For months, the agency has been noting increased ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, a harbinger of the El Niño Southern Oscillation. But it was not accompanied by increased convection in the lower atmosphere, typically spawning thunderstorms and weakening surface trade winds, according to NOAA.

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