NASA Climatologist: El Niño Has Arrived, Will Be ‘One Storm After Another Like a Conveyor Belt’

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The Climate Prediction Center forecast above-average precipitation for much of California between January and March. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

The National Weather Service’s latest forecast indicated that a powerful El Niño continued to strengthen in October, but a NASA climatologist said the effects likely won’t be felt in California until early next year.

In a report released Thursday, the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center stated the episode is already “strong” and “mature.”

“It’s official. El Niño’s here. It’s a done deal,” Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Los Angeles Times. “So at this point, we’re just waiting for the impacts in California.”

Typically, he said, El Niño doesn’t peak in the state until the first three months of the years. But when it does, the drought-stricken state will likely be hit with “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt,” Patzert told the Times.

Though it has the potential to bring “extreme rainfall” to California, federal forecasters cautioned earlier this year that it may still not be enough to erase four years of drought in the state.

“Seasonal outlooks generally favor below average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation over the northern tier of the United States,” the report stated.

Most models forecast that the current El Niño – predicted to rank among the three strongest episodes on record since 1950 — will continue through the Northern Hemisphere this winter.

Based on the averages of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific between August and October, the current event ranked second to the powerful 1997 El Niño, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Even though El Niño likely will not peak until at least next month, its effects have already been felt around the world for months, a NOAA blog post stated on Thursday.

Among recent events, it was credited with fueling Hurricane Patricia, which made landfall as a Category 5 storm last month and was among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded.

El Niños typically enhance the Pacific’s hurricane season, Emily Becker wrote in the post.

This year, there has already been 21 Category 4 or 5 storms, a record number for the region, Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University told NOAA. The previous record was 17, back in 1997.

El Niño has also already had “substantial impacts” in the eastern and southern parts of Africa, Emily Becker wrote in the post.

In East Africa, where El Niños tend to enhance the “short rains” rainy season, rain has started to increase across much of the area, with some flooding reported in Somalia, according to Becker. Wetter conditions were forecast to continue at least through the next few weeks there, she said.

At the same time, Southern Africa has been experiencing a drier than normal season, according to Becker.

Conditions were also dry in Indonesia, and the country has seen its greatest number of brush fires since 1997, she wrote.

Mammoth Mountain even credited the “Godzilla El Niño” for opening ahead of schedule this season. Northern and Central California was hit with nearly 3 feet of snow as a series of pre-winter storms blew through the Sierra Nevada mountains recently.

For now, experts are warning people to start preparing for the possibility of increased precipitation and other effects across the region.

“January and February are just around the corner. If you think you should make preparations, get off the couch and do it now. These storms are imminent,” said Patzert, who predicted the possibility of a “Godzilla El Niño” back in August.

“El Niño is here. And it is huge,” he added.

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