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Could an El Niño be in store for San Diego?

With all the dry weather San Diego has been having the last few years, could we be in store for an El Niño weather pattern beginning the fall of 2014? Scientists have recently published a report saying that an El Niño is a possibility some time in the next year. This may mean hotter, dry weather in places like Australia and parts of Africa and Asia, but more rain in South America and California.

El Niño vs normal conditions
NOAA Photo Library

Scientists are using a fine-tuned model for long-term prediction that had been successful in predicting El Niño years in the past. Currently, the ENSO (short for El Niño/Southern Oscillation) situation is neutral for either condition with a slight chance of a weak La Niña during the next few months, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Later in the year, it is expected that the conditions will be between neutral and a slight El Niño in the fall. NOAA, also, is predicting no changes in the oscillations that lead to the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon, at least in the first half of 2014.

The El Niño/La Niña phenomenon is based on observations of the water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. During La Niña years, the water current that stretches across the equator from South America are cooler than normal. This normally means drier, warmer winter weather in the southern United States, and cooler, wetter weather in the Pacific Northwest. During El Niño years, the same area of water is warmer than normal. This would mean that the west coast will have wetter weather and there will be more storms in the tropics. But, it also means that Africa and southern Asia may suffer from drought.

While a “slight” El Niño is predicted by most models for late in 2014, there is no guarantee that it will have an effect on the drought in southern California. These types of weather phenomena don’t always do what they are expected to do. Models for long-term climate predictions are still imperfect, though they have improved in the last few decades. One will need to keep watch to see if such predictions come true.

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