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A series of winter storms expected to begin this weekend could bring significant rainfall to Southern California over the course of the next week, forecasters said.

Satellite images on Saturday morning showed a series of Pacific low pressure storm systems moving into the region, likely impacting the state through much of the first work week of the new year, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters predicted the first storm would hit Sunday night, bringing light precipitation and snow to levels between 5,000 and 6,000 feet through Monday.

Then, the region would be drenched by likely heavier rainfall.

From Tuesday through Friday, additional storms have the potential to bring heavy rains to drought-stricken Southern California, according to the weather service. At other times, the area would be soaked by widespread moderate precipitation.

The wet and stormy weather could bring significant rain totals of 2 to 4 inches to many areas, while forecasters expected local accumulations of up to 6 inches on south-facing slopes.

Heavy snowfall was also possible in mountain areas during the period.

“The exact timing and intensity of each weather system is still in question, but the overall weather pattern appears to be a wet one for the coming week,” the weather service stated.

A total of three storms have been forecast for next week: the first was expected Sunday night into Monday morning; the second could start Monday night and last through Tuesday night; and the third and final storm system would likely hit from Thursday into Friday.

The repetitive storms have the potential to unleash a torrent of rain capable of producing flash flooding with mud and debris flows in communities around recent burn areas, forecasters warned. These included the Colby, Madison, Powerhouse, Madre, Solimar and Springs burn areas.

Other potential impacts included slick roadways, urban flooding, gusty winds and wintry driving conditions in higher mountain elevations with heavy snow, according to the weather service.

The storms were forecast to occur amid a still-growing El Niño that, as of late last month, was set to bear down on the U.S., according to NASA.

In a blog post on Tuesday, the agency said the latest satellite image reflected “the classic pattern of a fully developed El Niño”; it also resembled one from the powerful and record-setting 1997 El Niño taken around the same time.

“The images show nearly identical, unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific: the signature of a big and powerful El Niño,” the blog post stated.

For months, climatologists have been warning of a potential Godzilla El Niño.

Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Los Angeles Times in mid-November that El Niño had already arrived.

“At this point, we’re just waiting for the impacts in California,” he said at the time.

Typically, El Niño peaks in the state during the first three months of the year, according to Patzert. He predicted that once the rains started, California likely faced “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt.”

Expert predictions indicated the current El Niño would continue through the Northern Hemisphere this winter and rank among the three strongest on record.

NASA released the latest satellite image comparing the current El Niño to the 1997 event on Dec. 29, 2015.
NASA released the latest satellite image comparing the current El Niño to the 1997 event on Dec. 29, 2015.