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Forecasters Predict Powerful El Nino To Bring Rain To The Dry West


In all likelihood, El Nino will bring rain to at least parts of a very dry California. That's according to forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They've just released updated predictions for the weather system. From member station KPCC, Molly Peterson reports.

MOLLY PETERSON, BYLINE: All signs are pointing to a wet winter for at least part of California, says the deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, Mike Halpert.

MIKE HALPERT: What's new this month is we're predicting that this El Nino could be among the strongest El Ninos in the historical record dating back to 1950.

PETERSON: Halpert says surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator are more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

HALPERT: A value that we've only recorded three times in the last 65 years.

PETERSON: During the last time, the winter of 1997 to '98, Southern California saw double its usual amount of rain. Rivers throughout the state fattened to flood stages, mud slides caused more than half a billion dollars in damage and officials reported 17 storm-related deaths.

More than rain, what matters to California water managers is the potential snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. That snowfall feeds reservoirs and rivers, the major sources of water for the state. Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the Department of Water Resources, remains skeptical that El Nino will affect Northern California's snowpack.

JEANINE JONES: You see a very wide spread in those individual model results that really conveys some of the uncertainty associated with making these forecasts.

PETERSON: Even under the best-case scenario, it's unlikely enough snow will fall in the Sierra Nevada to bust the drought, according to Kevin Werner, who directs NOAA's Western Regional Climate Services.

KEVIN WERNER: We'd need something in excess of the wettest year on record to balance the four-year deficit.

PETERSON: The top water regulator in California, Felicia Marcus, isn't holding out hope.

FELICIA MARCUS: We got over hope as a strategy last year.

PETERSON: California officials are not changing the state's strict limits on water use based on this forecast. For NPR News, I'm Molly Peterson in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Molly Peterson