Coastal California is already feeling the effects of an El Niño condition that is shaping up to be one of the strongest in the historical record.
That was the conclusion of six ocean, climate and water experts at a media advisory held Thursday at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla
“2015 is one of the strongest events in the historical record,” said Scripps researcher Dave Pierce, with Pacific Ocean temperatures warmer now than during the 1997 El Niño. “It’s a pretty robust signal right now.”
“El Niño is here. It’s not a matter of where; it’s a matter of when,” said Alex Tardy of the National Weather Service office in San Diego. “Above normal precipitation and frequent storms are expected for Southern California with the best chance from December though March.”
An El Niño, so named because Peruvian fisherman first noticed unusually warm water at Christmas, the time of the Christ child, affects Southern California by shifting the jet stream south and bringing with it storms that usually hit farther north.
“What happens during an El Niño is we take that jet steam and focus it on Southern California,” Tardy said. “We don’t create new storms; we borrow them from our friends in the Pacific Northwest.”
The El Niño is already affecting coastal California, and poses a number of risks. Among the observations the experts made:
- Tides along the coast are already higher than normal, making coastal flooding more likely during storms
- Coastal waters have been noticeably warmer for a year
- Populations of anchovy and squid are moving north, but more loggerhead turtles and seahorses are being seen
- While a wet winter is now very likely, it isn’t certain
- Just a number of big storms can make the different between a wet year and a dry year
- State officials are worried about debris flow and mudslide risks in burned areas
- A strong El Niño won’t necessary end the drought because California has missed two seasons of rainfall over four years
Scripps is in the forefront of measuring ocean temperatures through the use of autonomous gliders — underwater drones — that constantly survey the eastern Pacific.
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