El Niño Update: Odds Favor Significant Winter Storms | NBC Bay Area

El Niño Update: Odds Favor Significant Winter Storms

California will need a series of wet and snowy winters to see relief after four years of drought

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    El Niño is expected to remain strong through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16. This map illustrates sea surface temperatures in December 2015.

    This year's El Niño is staying unusually strong and still expected to bring a wet winter to drought-stricken California.

    In an update Thursday, Mike Halpert of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters the odds favor some significant winter storms in California. El Niño is a warming in the Pacific Ocean that can influence weather worldwide.

    They are categorized by strength, ranging from weak to very strong. This past winter marked a weak El Niño. Some El Niño seasons have been dry, others are around average, and some bring above-normal rainfall.

    In 1997-98, downtown Los Angeles saw 30.57 inches of rain over the water year. Since 1950, there have been 22 seasons with an El Niño -- 12 had above-average rainfall, 10 were below-average.

    The strong El Niño forecast comes as about 45 percent of California remains under exceptional drought, the most severe category in the U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly report. One year ago, 55 percent of the state was in exceptional drought.

    About 97 percent of the state is in some type of drought, according to the Monitor's report. That figure has not changed significantly over the past year.

    "The area's multiyear drought means recovery will likely happen very slowly," according to the report.

    The Sierra snowpack on Wednesday was at its highest point for this time of the year since 2012, but it remains well below historical averages. After four years of drought, California would need several winters of snowfall in the Sierra Nevada range to see relief. Water from the mountains flows into the state's reservoirs, providing water for millions of Californians.

    Last week, Folsom Lake hit its lowest point since record-keeping began 40 years ago.

    Northern California is bracing for a snowstorm that might bring 2 to 3 feet of snow at peaks overlooking Lake Tahoe. At lake level, near Tahoe City, forecasters predict 8 to 16 inches of snow.

    "We've had storms about every seven to 10 days, but the duration of these events has been shorter," said state climatologist Michael Anderson, adding that it's not yet clear why that has occurred, or if it will continue.