Signs point to strong, drought-busting El Niño

Signs point to strong, drought-busting El Niño
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Officials say an El Niño strong enough to ease California's historic drought is increasingly likely this winter. 

Meteorologists now predict that there is a 95 percent chance the current El Niño will last through the winter and deliver some relief to drought-parched California. 

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“This is as close as you're going to get to a sure thing," NASA climatologist Bill Patzert told The Associated Press

El Niño is a weather pattern characterized by warm waters in the Pacific Ocean and a deluge of wet weather along the West Coast. They happen about every 20 years, and officials say this year’s version — which is already underway — should deliver rain to parts of California. 

There is a 60 percent chance of above-average rainfall in Southern California, a National Weather Service official told the AP, though further north, that likelihood falls to about 30 percent.

Because an especially wet winter could overwhelm dry swaths of California, officials are already working to protect parts of the state from flooding and mudslides. Ocean temperatures show the current El Niño to be one of the strongest on record. 

"If it downpours heavily over a short period of time, it's going to be dangerous, not just a welcome relief they perceive to be helping the drought,” Kelly Huston, deputy director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services, told the AP.

The California drought, stretching into its fourth year, has had a dramatic impact on the state’s water use, with officials imposing mandatory limits on irrigation and asking citizens to cut down on their water consumption. 

Scientists say the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains — which is the main source of the state’s water supply — is the lowest it has been in at least 500 years

A strong El Niño would help the state cope with the drought, but more snow is considered necessary for replenishing its water reserves.