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El Niño To Bring Heavy Rains, Snow to Drought Stricken California

ONE of the most powerful El Niño storms on record is gathering strength in California, and is likely to bring heavy rains to key areas in the north that provide water for the rest of the state.

According to a new forecast, the area around Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, will have above-normal precipitation, over a 40 percent chance (up more than 33 percent chance in last month’s forecast). San Francisco also has more than a 50 percent shot of wetter-than-average winter, said the Los Angeles Times.

Forecasters say that El Niño will not completely eliminate the state’s four-year drought, though the season’s heavy rainfall would be welcoming especially in dry regions in the north.

“Californians should continue to use water carefully and sparingly in the face of the ongoing extreme drought,” state climatologist Michael L. Anderson said in a statement. “Californians should not count on El Niño to end the drought.”

“Over a 25-year period, over the long term, El Niño provides only 7% of our water. So as much as we’re hyping it, it’s not a big player,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. “It’s fast and furious, but it’s too irregular–the gap between El Niños is too long to build any statues to El Niño to be a drought-buster. If we were going to build a drought-buster statue downtown, it would be North Pacific storms or Pineapple Expresses.”

LA continues to have more than a 60 percent probability of a wet winter during January, February and March of next year.

“Not only are we getting closer to winter, but El Niño is maintaining its strength and getting even stronger,” said Matthew Rosencrans, head of operations for the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. “From the latest observation, it’s still on an upward trend, not even topping out right now.”

The tropical storm is occurring in the Pacific has been the effect of climbing ocean temperatures west of Peru, and due to “trade winds” that allow warm water to flow eastward toward the Americas, allowing El Niño to gain more strength, and double California’s chances of storms, floods, and heavy rainfall.
Thanks in part to El Niño, a series of strong storms have blanketed the Sierra Nevada Mountains with snow. Another storm this week is expected to deliver another layer of heavy white stuff, making the Sierras a popular destination for skiers.

“This is the earliest the ski resorts have been opened in many years… They rarely open before Thanksgiving,” added Patzert.

Experts say the snow boom should continue into next year thanks to El Niño rains, which is expected to dump large amounts of heavy snow across the mountains.

The first fall storm that hit earlier this month left up to 36 inches of snow on the summit of Mammoth Mountain, and 18 inches at Lake Tahoe.

“The new storm expected to dust the state Tuesday and Wednesday will drop up to another 18 inches,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Nathan Owen. “Mountain passes may be closed or buried and visibility will be limited. But after the snow passes, the cold will remain.”

These early season storms are a sign of the upcoming El Niño, experts say. “Though the storms originated in the Gulf of Alaska, the fact they reached Northern California and with so much snow indicates El Niño’s water-warming influence has reduced the high-pressure system that usually deflects them,” said Patzert.
Officials warned skiers, snowboarders, and other resort dwellers to beware of avalanches.

Avalanches occur when snow builds up and forms a cornice, sending overhanging snow crashing down the mountain. Navigating dense, snow-packed mountains requires skill and experience and should be attempted only in pairs, said Inyo County Sheriff William Lutze. Fatalities in the snowy region are “not uncommon.”

“If it doesn’t look safe, it’s not safe,” Lutze added.

The Climate Prediction Center said that there is a 95 percent chance El Niño will persist through the spring, already rivaling two of the most powerful tropical storms on record, in 1982-83 and 1997-98. n
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