El Niño Watch: New Event Could Be Strongest in Recorded History

Rain boots puddles (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty)
Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty

An El Niño forming off of the Pacific Coast could morph into the largest weather event of its kind in recorded history.

According to the National Weather Service’s North American Multi-Model Ensemble forecast, there is a greater-than-95-percent chance of a “strong” El Niño, and a greater-than-60-percent chance of the strongest El Niño in recorded North American history.

The heart of the El Niño, a weather pattern marked by warmer ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific, currently sits off the coast of Peru, where ocean temperatures were recently recorded at four degrees warmer than usual, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

If the pattern holds, California and the Pacific Northwest could be in for a “super” El Niño, much stronger than the 1997-98 event and perhaps the largest in recorded history. A super El Niño would mean torrential rainfall, typhoons and likely mudslides across the California coast.

The prospect of heavy rain is attractive for California after four years of record drought.

But Golden Gate Weather Services meteorologist Jan Null sought to temper expectations for the El Niño, telling the Chronicle that predictions about its strength are based on just a handful of models.

“We don’t know if one model is better than any other,” Null told the paper.

Null’s warning echoes National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Michelle L’Heureux’s own caution earlier this month to “be careful about gauging El Niño strength on a sub-monthly basis.”

“Current observed conditions are not the same as a forecast for the future,” L’Heureux wrote on the NOAA El Niño blog. “While a certain feature may be eye grabbing and it could persist, it does not mean that it will continue.”

Even with a chance of a record weather event on the horizon, California should remain cautious about its prospects of ending the drought; in May, weather experts warned that even a “super” El Niño would not be enough to relieve the state of its water woes.


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