95% Chance of El Niño, Forecasters Say | NBC Bay Area

95% Chance of El Niño, Forecasters Say



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    Federal forecasters upgraded this year's El Niño to an unusual strong status, but said it's probably not a record breaker or drought buster.

    Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said in its monthly update Thursday that California has a 95 percent chance of experiencing El Niño this year.

    “The news is that ... We now have a strong El Nino,” said Mike Halpert, NWS’s deputy director during a conference call with reporters today. “Obviously our confidence is increasing.”

    Halpert said the current worldwide weather shifting event doesn't match the monster El Niño of 1997-1998, nor is it likely to.

    With even warmer waters in the central Pacific in August, the hottest in more than 17 years, the prediction center moved the El Niño up from moderate status.

    So far the El Niño is the third strongest on record, behind 1997-98 and a weird one in 1987-88 that peaked early.

    Meteorologists said strong El Niños usually dump heavy rains on southern California, but its four-year water deficit is too big to be erased in one wet winter.

    “Current El Niño conditions cannot tell us how many storms may cross California this coming winter or how much rain and snow will fall in our state,” a prepared statement said. “Strong El Niño events in the past have led to wetter-than-average conditions in the southern part of the state but offered mixed results for California’s main water supply regions in the north. This uncertainty means that Californians should continue to use water carefully and sparingly in the face of the ongoing extreme drought.”

    Federal forecasters said  this year's El Niño is probably not a record breaker or drought buster.

    Halpert, deputy director of the federal Climate Prediction Center, said the current worldwide weather shifting event doesn't match the monster El Niño of 1997-1998, nor is it likely to.

    Much of California simmered in a stew of high heat and humidity on Thursday, bracing for more thunderstorms and flash floods that have already killed one person and left scattered damage and power outages.

    The sweltering, erratic weather was being generated by a ridge of high pressure over the state and the monsoonal flow of moisture from Tropical Storm Linda, the weakening former hurricane spinning in the Pacific about 400 miles southwest of San Diego.

    Thursday was expected to be the peak of the weeklong heat wave, which has produced triple-digit temperatures up and down the state.

    Heat advisories extended from San Diego north to San Francisco and beyond, although fog that swaddled the Golden Gate and cooler temperatures along the immediate Bay Area coast presaged a gradual return to normal summer weather.

    Cloud cover knocked a degree or two off high temperatures, but the National Weather Service said it would not be noticeable because of the high humidity.

    Demand for electricity, meanwhile, was high as people turned to air conditioning for relief.

    "Yesterday's usage was close to Southern California Edison's peak usage on Aug. 31, 2007,'' utility spokesman Paul Griffo said.

    Power outages resulting from extreme heat and thunderstorms continued to affect residents.

    About 8,100 Southern California Edison customers were without electricity Thursday morning, Griffo said. San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties were the hardest hit areas.

    A blackout Wednesday affected more than 15,000 of the utility's customers in Riverside and Los Angeles counties.

    In Los Angeles, 1,700 customers, mostly in the downtown area, were without electricity, Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Ellen Cheng said.

    Afternoon thunderstorms and resulting flash-flooding also left damage.

    A section of State Route 2 in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles was closed indefinitely because of a massive rock-and- mud slide triggered by a downpour on Wednesday evening. The California Department of Transportation estimated the debris between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap amounted to 150 truckloads.

    A 25-year-old man was killed earlier in the week when he was swept to his death by a rain-swollen creek in the Forest Falls area of the San Bernardino National Forest. An off-duty sheriff's deputy saved the victim's companion.