El Niño is getting stronger, and odds are tilting toward another wet winter for California

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES — On the heels of a record-setting wet and warm August, forecasters on Thursday announced that El Niño is gaining strength and will almost certainly persist into 2024.

El Niño, the warm phase of the El Niño-La Niña Southern Oscillation pattern, is a major driver of weather worldwide and is often associated with hotter global temperatures and wetter conditions in California.

The system arrived in June and has been steadily gaining strength, with a 95% chance that it will persist into at least the first three months of 2024, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The odds of the system becoming a "strong" El Niño have increased to 71%.

That could result in a soggy January, February and March in Central and Southern California, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with UCLA.

"Right now, if you had to put money on it, the good money would probably be on a significantly wetter-than-average second half to winter in particular," Swain said during a briefing Thursday, noting that those months are already the wettest time of year in Central and Southern California.

However, the odds of that occurring currently range from 40% to 60%, he said, so it is far from a guarantee.


NOAA officials shared a similarly inconclusive outlook for the Golden State. The strong El Niño will be meeting with long-term drying trends and anomalously warm ocean temperatures driven by climate change, making its outcome increasingly difficult to predict.

Forecasts currently show equal chances of wetter- or drier-than-normal conditions between October and December in most of California, said Scott Handel, a meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

But "given the strong El Niño event likely to occur this winter, we are leaning toward above-normal precipitation, slightly, for the Los Angeles area this winter," he said.

Adding to the uncertainty is characteristic variation among El Niño events, with no two playing out the same way.


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