<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Southern California News - [LA FEATURE] El Niño in Southern California]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/localen-usThu, 22 Aug 2019 03:11:13 -0700Thu, 22 Aug 2019 03:11:13 -0700NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[El Nino Update: 'Stick a Fork in It']]>Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:15:59 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/218*120/06-09-2016-EL-NINO-EARTH-SAT.jpg

This year's monstrous El Niño heated up the globe, but didn't quite influence weather patterns to produce the kind of rainfall needed to end California's drought, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

In its monthly update, the agency said a recent return to the normal range for ocean temperatures means the weather phenomenon has come to an end after 15 months.

"There's nothing left," NOAA Climate Prediction Center deputy director Mike Halpert said. "Stick a fork in it, it's done."

Halpert said this El Niño triggered droughts in parts of Africa and India and played a role in a record hurricane season in the Pacific. It also added to man-made warming, as Earth has had 12 straight record hot months and is likely to have its second straight record hot year.

And, this will go down as one of the three strongest El Niños on record, along with 1997-1998 and 1982-83, Halpert said. El Niño is a natural warming of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide.

Some in California had hoped that the drought would be busted by the El Niño, which generally brings more rain to California and the South. But even at the start, NOAA had cautioned that the rain deficit was too big for the El Niño to fix.

"For one thing, there was more ocean surface warming in the western Pacific and less warming in the eastern Pacific during 2015-16 than 1997-98," Emily Becker of the NOAA wrote in a post on the agency's website. "Also, the amount of warm water under the surface was less during 2015-16 than 1997-98. The atmospheric response during 2015-16 was also generally weaker than during 1997-98.

"In short ... no two El Ninos are alike," she wrote.

And while it was rainy, it wasn't enough, Halpert said. Most of the snow and rainfall stayed to the north, leaving Southern Californians dry for much of the winter.

This week's Drought Monitor Report shows about 21 percent of the state under exceptional drought, the most severe of the weekly report's categories. That figure was at more than 46 percent on year ago, marking significant improvement in northern and extreme southeast California.

More than 83 percent of the state is under moderate drought, down from nearly 100 percent one year ago.

In parts of the central Pacific, ocean temperatures were even hotter and caused more harm than 1997-98, leaving scars "written in the geography and appearance of global reefs for decades to come," said Georgia Tech climate scientist and coral expert Kim Cobb .

"This El Niño has caused some of the worst coral bleaching and death of any event we've ever seen," said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin. "We've had enough of this."

Earth is now in the neutral part of the natural cycle of El Niños, which includes the cooler flip side, La Nina. But don't expect that to last. NOAA forecasts a 50 percent chance of La Nina by the end of the summer and 75 percent chance by the end of the fall.

La Ninas generally bring more hurricanes to the Atlantic instead of the Pacific, but doesn't have much impact on summer temperature or rain in the United States. It often features drier-than-normal conditions in the U.S. Southwest and wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

In the winter, La Nina often brings lots of rain to parts of Australia and Indonesia and cooler temperatures in parts of Africa, Asia, South America and Canada.

Cobb said her work has found some evidence, not enough to be conclusive, that man-made global warming is causing bigger El Niños more often. Global temperatures with the El Niño that just ended have been about 0.8 degrees warmer (0.45 degrees Celsius) than the 1998 El Niño, according to NOAA.

"This has been a bellwether event," Cobb said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

Photo Credit: NOAA
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<![CDATA[Warm February Melts Hopes for Drought Relief]]>Tue, 01 Mar 2016 15:12:07 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/195*120/03-01-2016-dwr-snowpack-survey-ca-drought.jpg

California's statewide snowpack is below average after a warm February and months of only moderate precipitation that followed a promising start to the wet season.

State surveyors traveled up the Sierra Nevada Tuesday to take their monthly measurements of the snowpack, which supplies about a third of the water needed by state residents, agriculture and industry as it melts in the late spring and summer. Fears that warm conditions in February could diminish what was, at one point this winter, above-average snowpack were confirmed.

Statewide snowpack is at just 83 percent of average for March 1, according to the Department of Water Resources. The agency's survey Tuesday at Echo Summit in the Central Sierra, which includes Lake Tahoe, showed snowpack was at 105 percent of average, compared to 130 percent at the same spot the month before.

"Mother Nature is not living up to predictions by some that a 'Godzilla' El Niño would produce much more precipitation than usual this winter," said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. "We need conservation as much as ever."

Last year marked California's driest four-year spell on record, leading Gov. Jerry Brown last April to order mandatory 25 percent water conservation for cities and towns. The conservation order remains in effect.

Despite the dry spell in February, the Sierra is having a better snow year than at any point since 2011. As of Monday, the snowpack statewide was about 19 percent of normal at this time last year, the lowest number on record, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Significant drought relief this season appears to be possible only if the state has another "March Miracle," such as in 1991 and 1995 when heavy rain and snowfall arrived late in the wet season.

"Right now, we're obviously better than last year but still way below what would be considered adequate for any reasonable level of recovery at this point," said Frank Gehrke, chief of the state's snow surveys program.

Forecasters say California, in its fifth year of drought, could still get plenty of El Nino rain in March and April. A strong storm is expected to come into Northern California this weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Historically, half of California's annual water falls as rain or snow during December, January and February.

Water managers say they're focused on the April 1 snowpack, when it's historically at its deepest. They say the snowpack needs be 150 percent of normal, signaling an easing drought.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[What's Up With El Nino? NASA Climatologist Weighs In]]>Fri, 26 Feb 2016 15:12:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Whats_Up_With_El_Nino_NASA_Climatologist_Weighs_In_1200x675_632163395744.jpgIf you've been wondering where the El Nino rains have gone, a NASA climatologist says March and April have often been the big show in bone-dry Southern California. Crystal Egger reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016.]]><![CDATA['Super' El Niño Weakening Slightly]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2016 15:01:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/209*120/02-08-2016-el-nino-update.JPG

Meteorologists see signs that the super El Niño is weakening ever so slightly, but they caution months will pass before people in the Americas will feel it.

The World Meteorological Organization said Thursday that El Niño has passed its peak based on specific temperature, wind, and atmospheric pressure conditions.

That's technically true, but Michelle L'Heureux, lead El Niño forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, said there's a few months lag time before the changes affect the Americas.

El Niño is the occasional but natural warming of the central tropical Pacific which, along with changes in the atmosphere, alters weather patterns worldwide. It often brings more rain to California and parts of the U.S. West and South, warms temperatures globally a bit, and causes droughts elsewhere in the world.

In December and January, El Niño measurements showed it tied 1997-1998 for the strongest since records started being kept in 1950.

"It's still strong, but it has reached a peak value and it's starting its decline," said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado. "It's still there; it's not like we don't have El Niño anymore. We can still expect (El Niño) like conditions in March and April and even into May, as well."

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center, said this El Niño hasn't brought drought-struck California as much moisture as previous strong El Niños, but there are still two months to go to get significant rainfall.

With El Niño still kicking, NOAA forecast a spring that's wetter than normal throughout the South, much of the West and part of the East. Only the Great Lakes region and Pacific Northwest are forecast to be dry.

It also predicts warmer than usual weather along the entire West Coast and most of the country north of Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee, with only Texas, parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico cooler than normal.

The International Research Institute at Columbia University forecast that once this El Niño fades, there's a 50 percent chance it will be followed directly by El Niño's flip side, a La Nina.

La Nina often means droughts in parts of the Great Plains and Southwest with more rain in the Northwest. La Ninas often mean warmer winters in the Southeast and cooler winters in the Northwest.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño Brings Heavy Erosion to Cabrillo Beach]]>Tue, 16 Feb 2016 00:49:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/215*120/Cabrillo_beach_aerials_4.PNG

Southern Californians took advantage of the President's Day holiday to get in a little beach time, but some were surprised to see the once sandy Cabrillo Beach coastline is now covered in rocks.

El Niño has kicked up high surf in the last few weeks, and that's causing major erosion along Southern California shores. Cabrillo Beach was especially hard hit, and that's creating dangerous conditions there.

Erosion is normal in winter months, but this year Los Angeles County beaches are experiencing a 25 to 50 percent increase in sand loss over last summer.

LA County lifeguards say El Niño is causing particularly high surf, and 12-foot waves are washing away more sand than usual. That's creating hazardous conditions - more rocks on shore and hidden sink holes beneath the water.

"The inshore holes are uneven so kids could fall in - three or four feet from shore a toddler can fall in a short hole and be four or five feet deep," lifeguard Capt. Ken Haskett said.

The uneven shoreline has also created more rip currents, causing the county to staff extra lifeguards this holiday weekend.

"My main concern is the bath house," said Allan Johnson of the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, a non-profit group formed in 1993 to restore the historic Cabrillo Beach Bath House.

The group is pushing Los Angeles city officials to truck in more sand to restore the coastline and to build a sand berm to protect the bath house from potential flooding.

"Mother nature is still champion," Johnson said. "We can do a lot of things, but we can't stop it. So what we can do is recognize the potential problem, put resources in place and basically when we need them, we can apply them."

A spokesperson for Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes the neighborhood of San Pedro, says the city is looking into the best way to restore the beach and hopes to come up with a plan in the coming weeks.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Show Effects of El Nino on SoCal Beaches]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2016 19:28:46 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/San+diego+coast.jpg

The military is funding a coastline study to help determine how El Nino and climate change could impact its facilities and bases close to the ocean.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using flights across the coast to take precise measurements of beach topography that may explain El Nino’s possible effects on local beaches and cliffs. The study is paid for by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Oceanographers Ken Melville and Luc Lenain are leading the aircraft-based project, using an imaging suite called Modular Aerial Sensing System (MASS), according to Scripps.

Melville said they had to speed up funding because the beaches were already changing. The oceanographers found sea levels along the Southern California coast are up to nine inches higher than historical averages.

In the midst of one of the strongest El Nino seasons in the past 60 years, the ONR and USACE are concerned with the possible consequences on how they design buildings on the coast, said the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“The Navy has a huge infrastructure at sea level and needs to understand the impact of storms and sea-level change not only in Southern California, but around the globe,” said Tom Drake, the director of Ocean, Atmosphere, and Space Research at ONR.

He said the new data will help them understand how El Nino is changing the shape of the Southern California coast and give insight on how to predict future change.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography said MASS uses a variety of tools to take beach topography measurements, including lidar, a laser technology that surveys distance by illuminating a specific target. With this laser technology combined with a GPS instrument and motion sensors, the oceanographers are able to scan the ocean in swaths of beach up to 600 meters wide.

According to Melville, the final product of collected data will explain how the sea level, storms and tides will affect beach and cliff topography during El Nino 2015-16. This will allow cities and states to adapt their management of coastal and urban infrastructure in response to higher sea levels in the upcoming decades.

“The Department of the Navy is keenly interested in understanding the potential effects of climate change and sea-level rise, and this coastal survey is a great example of the strategic partnerships that we contribute to and learn from to that end,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Karnig Ohannessian in a news release.

“The science informs key stakeholders in a whole-of-community approach to planning and adaptation, which ensures infrastructure resilience and enhances the Navy's mission readiness.”

Melville believes these types of measurements should be conducted on a regular basis to track the health of local beaches.

However, El Nino is not the only influence on rising sea levels, said the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There's also an unusual pool of warm upper-ocean water dubbed "the Blob," which has been around in the West Coast since 2014. The combination of the Blob and El Nino have further strengthened the rising sea levels, amid a continuing pattern of increasing eastern Pacific temperatures.

Photo Credit: Scripps Institute of Oceanography ]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño Update]]>Mon, 08 Feb 2016 08:37:30 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/209*120/02-08-2016-el-nino-update.JPGA look at how conditions are shaping up during California's wet season. Crystal Egger has an El Niño update for Monday Feb. 8, 2016.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño FAQ]]>Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:13:34 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/2015_What-Is-El-Nino.png

What is El Niño?
El Niño is a warming of the water off the Pacific coast of South America. El Niños are categorized by their strength, ranging from weak to very strong. This past winter was a weak El Niño. No two El Niños are alike.

App Users: Click here to view graphics in mobile site.

What does it mean for Southern California?
Weather patterns around the globe are greatly influenced by interactions with sea surface temperatures and the atmosphere. There's usually an increase in Pacific hurricane activity, and a decrease in the Atlantic. Some parts of the globe will see dry weather, and sometimes North America will see wet weather.

So it's going to be a wet winter?
Maybe. This is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to El Niño. There is the belief that every El Niño will be like 1997-98 where Downtown LA saw 30.57" of rain over the water year. The atmosphere is not that simple. Some El Niño seasons have been dry, some wet, and others are somewhere around average. Going back through 1950, we have seen 22 seasons with an El Niño -- 12 had above-average rainfall, 10 were below-average. This data shows a slight trend towards wet winters, but you can see it is far from a guarantee. This is the part of El Niño that is impossible to predict.

Does El Niño mean flooding for California?
El Niño does not mean flooding will occur in California. According to Jan Null with Golden Gate Weather Services, only 4 of the 10 costliest flood years in California (since 1950) happened during an El Niño season. There is a slight bias toward atmospheric rivers during El Niño years. Atmospheric river events increase the odds of flooding due to the large amount of rainfall delivered over the course of a few days.

Will El Niño end the drought?
The problem here is that we need not only a wet season, but a very wet season. Since we can't predict the outcome of El Niño, this is another question that we can't answer. Let's just say we have a wet season -- the next challenge will be differentiating between the meteorological and political definitions of drought. Also keep in mind that our drought is a result of several seasons of deficit.

Does El Niño have anything to do with climate change?
No, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV
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<![CDATA[Storms Unearth 1930s Ship Wreckage]]>Thu, 28 Jan 2016 13:04:06 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Coronado+Shipwreck+2016+1.jpg

Thrashing El Nino storms, which stripped a great deal of sand from the shores of Coronado, California, have revealed an amazing glimpse into history.

During low tide Saturday, the rusted remains of SS Monte Carlo emerged from the beach, close to Avenida de las Arenas. Joe Ditler, who has been studying the shipwreck for 30 years, was there to snap pictures of the wreckage, which appears from time to time when sand is sparse.

According to Ditler, a vicious storm rocked the Monte Carlo on Dec. 31, 1936, breaking the ship from its moorings three miles from Coronado’s shore.

Two caretakers were rescued from the 300-foot boat, and on New Year's morning, it washed up on South Coronado Beach.

In the Prohibition days, the ship was anchored in international waters to avoid U.S. laws. People searching for gambling, prostitution or bootleg whiskey would take smaller boats out to the “sin ship” for a night of revelry, Ditler told NBC 7. 

Famous actors such as Clark Gable and Mae West reportedly gave the Monte Carlo their patronage.

“Evangelists throughout San Diego County and Southern California devoted their whole sermons to sin ships, ‘May God let forth His wrath!’” Ditler explained. “When it did break moorings and crashed, they took credit.”

He said there were rumors that at least $100,000 worth of silver dollars was buried with the wreckage when sand washed over the Monte Carlo.

The beached ship, once known as a pleasure palace, now provides pleasure to sightseers lucky enough to catch it at a very low tide.

“I’m going to research it. I’m probably going to try and get a lot of information on it,” said teen Sophie Lee. “Try and look it up and look at pictures and stuff like that.”

If more El Nino storms lash San Diego’s shores, Ditler expects more people may get to see the piece of local maritime history. Since he has lived here, he said he has never seen so much of the wreckage as he did this weekend.

Its reoccuring reappearance, he said, is ironic, given the beach on which it washed up.

"Coronado is prim and proper, and here's this gambling ship, this sin ship, that crashed on the beach in the 1930s and they can't get rid of it," said Ditler. 

Photo Credit: Joe Ditler]]>
<![CDATA[WATCH: Drone View of CA Cliff Erosion]]>Tue, 26 Jan 2016 09:54:55 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/215*120/01-26-2016-pacifica-cliffs-collapse.JPGDrone video captures cliff-side homes on the brink of collapse due to erosion caused by El Niño-fueled storms in Northern California. Credit: YouTube/Duncan Sinfield

Photo Credit: YouTube/Duncan Sinfield]]>
<![CDATA[Drone Video Captures Cliff Erosion]]>Mon, 25 Jan 2016 17:29:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/PACIFICA-EROSION-PKG---00002521.jpg

The Pacifica city council on Monday approved an emergency declaration after storms caused by El Niño battered the city's coastline, leaving behind a sinkhole, a damaged sea wall and a trail of destruction.

Failing bluffs along the Pacifica shoreline have led city officials to declare a third apartment building uninhabitable Monday.

Eroding cliffs along Esplanade Avenue have already led the city to declare apartment buildings at 320 and 330 Esplanade Ave. uninhabitable, and neighboring 310 Esplanade Ave. joined them today, city officials said in a statement. A drone video posted to YouTube shows bluffs falling into  the ocean below.

The building was "yellow-tagged," meaning residents can go inside to get belongings out but can no longer stay there. The neighboring buildings at 320 and 330 Esplanade will need to be demolished, city officials said.

"Recent bluff failures have resulted in unsafe conditions for living space at 310 Esplanade Avenue," city chief building official Mike Cully said in a statement. "Cavities in the bluff are forming to the south, west and north of the building and these critically over-steepened slopes are anticipated to fall back to more stable profiles in the next several days."

Significant storm damage in the city over the last several weeks led the city manager to declare a local state of emergency on Friday. The City Council approved an emergency declaration at its meeting Monday night.

The Pacifica Pier has sustained storm damage and is partially closed. Beach Boulevard remains closed near Santa Maria Avenue because of the failure of the seawall there, according to city officials.

The apartment buildings on Esplanade have been at risk of collapse for years. In January 2010, cliff erosion left the building at 330 Esplanade teetering on the edge of the cliff and residents were evacuated.

In April 2010, the apartments at 320 Esplanade were deemed unstable as well and the owners had to come up with a repair plan to keep the buildings from being demolished.

The city has seen damage to the Pacifica Pier, the Milagra Watershed Outfall and the failure of the sea wall along Beach Blvd. near the intersection of Santa Maria Avenue since mid December. 

"We need state and federal assistance to respond to the growing list of failing public infrastructure," City Manager Lorie Tinfow said.

Private properties have also been affected, and owners of two properties were notified that their structures were not safe to inhabit. Other areas along the cliff are experiencing significant loss of bluff top as well.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Record Number of Seals Rescued]]>Fri, 22 Jan 2016 10:31:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/2016-01-21_9-48-52.jpg

The sickly northern fur seal found stranded in a California business park this week is just one of the record number of mammals found and rescued at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito - likely a factor of both The Blob and El Niño.

"We're seeing El Niño conditions behind The Blob," said center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli. "And the pups are left to forage for themselves. That's why they are washing ashore."

A total of 107 fur seals were rescued by the center in 2015, three times the average. Three have been rescued in the first 21 days of 2016, Rulli said. And throughout California, other rescue centers are busy feeding high numbers of hungry mammals before sending them back into the ocean.

An unusually high number of pups, and even their mothers, have been popping up in places where they shouldn’t, including Wednesday at a Hayward, California business park and in late December in Sonoma County. Rulli said center workers began noticing in October that the pups were half the size they should be, and were “severely emaciated.”

And off the central coast, Guadalupe fur seals were found dying starting in September, leading the National Oceanic and Atmosphereic Administration to declare an "unusual mortality rate."  Seabirds also have been found starving along the West Coast, in Oregon and Washington.

Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that from January to May 2015, California sea lion strandings were more than 10 times the average.

A variety of factors determine when fur pup seals stray from where they should be: swimming happily in the Pacific Ocean, after having been born on the Channel Islands, Rulli said. But the warm ocean waterheated by El Niño is one of the the most likely reasons for the sickly mammals, Rulli said.

Plus, in 2013, the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atomosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington noted a warm water stretch of ocean, from Alaska to Southern California, and dubbed it The Blob. The area covers at least 3,000 miles and is known for being nutrient poor.

So now, mammals are experiencing a double whammy of warm water. That makes it harder to find food.

Lactating mama seals have more difficulty diving for food – sardines, herring, squid and anchovies – that swim deeper into the ocean in search of their preferred colder habitat. The pups are left hungry when their mothers can’t feed them enough. Sometimes the pups leave their moms in search of food. Sometimes they end up in business parks.

Rulli added that unusually weak winds from the north and strong winds from the south are also causing a change in currents and a lack of upwelling that would typically bring colder water and nutrients, such as fish, to the surface.

A similar phenomenon occurred during California’s last El Niño in 1997, when the death rate of seals hovered about 70 percent, compared to a normal rate of 45 percent. 

Photo Credit: Dana Angus/Marine Mammal Center
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<![CDATA[Don't Worry: Rain From El Niño is Still Coming to SoCal]]>Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:38:22 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/169*120/elnino-012016.JPG

Wonder when El Niño is really coming to SoCal? NBC4 Meteorologist Anthony Yanez has some answers:

It’s the number one question I get about our weather: "Where is the rain from El Niño?"

If you’ve been paying close attention, you know the NBCLA weather team has been saying for months that we should be prepared for February and March. Everything is still on track for that time frame.

But we have to be careful for what we wish for.

The top five strongest El Niño events all brought devastating flooding and mudslides, costing Southern Californians lives and property.

The damage has totaled into the millions.

In a perfect world Central and Northern California would continue to pile up the snow pack because that is where we get our drinking water.

However, the atmosphere doesn’t work this way.

I want you think about what Bill Patzert, NASA’s leading climatologist, says about this El Niño episode:

"The El Nino warm pool, directly south of Southern California, is two and a half times the size of the continental United States. This is immense, and it’s had a huge, punishing impact in continents all around the planet. Suffering droughts in South Africa, floods in South America, much of Southeast Asia is in a punishing, very costly drought. There’s really isn’t any place on the planet that doesn’t have the fingerprint of El Niño on it. Of course, we tend to be southern California-centric. And everybody’s waiting for the big show in southern California," Patzert said.

I’m concerned when the "big show" does arrive next month.

We got a small taste at the beginning of the month and we had flooding, mudslides, wind damage and damaging surf.

Many homeowners, city and state officials have done everything they can to prepare, and now we wait. 

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Update: Winter Storms Bring Minor Improvement]]>Thu, 21 Jan 2016 09:59:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/01-21-2016-drought-california-map.jpg

Waves of precipitation brought slight drought relief this week to Northern California as the region continues to see rain and snow from El Niño-fueled winter storms.

Those minor improvements were in extreme northwestern California. More than 97 percent of California remains under moderate drought as the state reaches the midpoint in its snow season, according to this week's Drought Monitor report. More than 42 percent of California is under exceptional drought, the Monitor's most severe category, down from three months ago when 46 percent of the state was under exceptional drought.

"This doesn’t mean the region is drought free by any means, but it's certainly a good start to the Water Year as we sit near the midpoint of the snow season," according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor statement. "Now, we'll see if Mother Nature finishes strong or changes her mind."

More storms are expected to bring rain and snow to Northern California late this week.

California is in its driest four-year span on record, and officials anticipate a possible fifth year of drought.  A strong El Niño weather system points toward more rain and snow this winter, but one good year won't be enough to rehydrate the parched landscape.

The warming of Pacific waters influences weather patterns around the world. Most of the precipitation has stayed to the north this season, an encouraging sign for the vital Sierra Nevada snowpack. Springtime runoff from the mountain range flows into the state's diminished water reservoirs.

The strongest El Ninos have led to devastating floods and landslides in Southern California, and experts have warned that the damaging effects of the storms could still be ahead for the region. February and March are expected to see the bulk of this season's storm activity in Southern California.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA['Exceptional' Drought Improves Only 2 Percent]]>Thu, 14 Jan 2016 12:44:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/01-14-2016-nino-storm-rain-clouds-AP_492750685630.jpg

Parts of drought-stricken California saw only minor improvement this week after a series of storms marched through the region.

This week's California Drought Monitor shows only a 2 percent improvement to the exceptional drought category -- the most severe -- in Northern California following storms that brought rain and snow to the state. Water reservoirs remain below normal as the state's hopes for a degree of drought recovery hinge on the effects of a strong El Niño.

"Even with the rain and snow received over the last several weeks, many areas are still running below normal for precipitation and snow for the current water year," according to the weekly report. "Wells, reservoirs, ground water, and soil moisture are all recovering slowly, which is to be expected after three-plus years of drought."

The warming of Pacific waters influences weather conditions around the globe and could mean a wetter-than-normal winter for California.

More than 42 percent of California remains under exceptional drought. That figure is down by about 4 percentage points since the start of the water year at the end of September.

More than 87 percent of California remains under severe drought.

Recovery is expected to be slow and require much more rain and snowfall, according to the report. Northern California could see more precipitation in the coming week.

"Remember, it took many years to get here," said NBC4 forecaster Crystal Egger. "We need to see more storms coming into our state over the next several months. We will put a dent in our drought if we keep up with that storm track to our north."

The storms dump snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains that melts and runs off in spring, flowing into reservoirs.

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Barriers Will Raise Height of LA Riverbanks]]>Sat, 09 Jan 2016 10:38:53 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*120/la+river.jpg

Not since the Los Angeles River was lined with concrete decades ago has it ever overflowed its banks.

But now, after the first week of El Niño-influenced storms in what is forecast to be an extremely wet winter, officials see need to, in effect, raise the top of miles of riverbank by installing prefab barriers.

It will give the river another four feet to rise before overtopping the bank.

"We're preparing for a worst-case scenario," said Col. Kirk Griggs, commander of the LA district of the Army Corps of Engineers. Three days earlier, as the year's first series of storms was drenching the southland, Griggs had declared a district emergency. 

Griggs joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and County Supervisor Hilda Solis, along with other officials, for a riverside briefing on precautions being taken.

The concern is focused on three miles of riverbank on the stretch of river that parallels the 5 Freeway near the border of Los Angeles and Glendale. Vegetation in the river bottom has significantly reduced the river's capacity, Griggs said. Between Colorado Street and Fletcher Drive, the original design capacity of 78,000 cubic feet per second is now estimated to be only 40,000 cubic square feet —-barely half — according to the Corps.

Adding the barrier is projected to increase the capacity up to 60,000 cubic square feet. Bringing it all the way back to full capacity will require removing vegetation.

Upriver, near the Victory Boulevard crossing, vegetation has reduced capacity from 40,000 cubic square feet to 25,000, according to Corps figures. The plan there is to restore full capacity by removing native vegetation along with nonnative, Griggs said.

Peak recorded river flows during the rains this past week remained well below capacity.  However, there were breaks between the storms, allowing the river level to drop. El Niño winters have been known to produce rain nearly continuously for days on end.

Even so, officials said it is unlikely runoff levels would reach capacity, but considered the $3.1 million barriers a worthwhile precaution. 

"If it floods there is risk for significant damage," said Mayor Garcetti.

"I'm definitely on the side of abundance of caution," said Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, whose 13th district includes a stretch of the river.

Similar barriers, manufactured by Hesco, were used to shield Fargo, North Dakota from flooding in 2009. The barriers for Los Angeles are being shipped and expected to arrive Saturday, but installation could take several weeks, according to Griggs. He is hopeful they will be in place for February, historically the Southland's wettest month.

Apart from the barriers, the Corps has allocated half a million dollars to an account for removal of vegetation, but will need additional funds for clearing other stretches of the river, Griggs said.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Stricken Calif. Welcomes El Nino's Storms]]>Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:05:27 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/th-AP_890013665087.jpg

Despite the potential for flooding and mudslides, storms moving toward California were welcome news for a state suffering from a severe drought. But officials warned against reverting to old water-use habits.

As the first of the storms drenched the state on Tuesday, authorities cautioned that even the wettest of winters can't replenish depleted reservoirs and aquifers unless everyone keeps pitching in.

California's water deficit is so deep after four years of drought that a "steady parade of storms" like these will be needed for years to come, said Mike Anderson, climatologist for the state's Department of Water Resources.

"We're at least on a good trajectory," he said. "We've got to keep it going."

The current El Nino -- a natural warming of the central Pacific Ocean that interacts with the atmosphere and changes weather worldwide -- has tied 1997-1998 as the strongest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center said, citing statistics that go back to 1950.

El Ninos usually bring heavy rains to California, although it remains to be seen whether people should expect anything like a repeat of 1997 and 1998, when storms killed 17 people, wiped out crops, washed out highways and pushed houses down hillsides.

"DarthNino may finally have California in its sights," said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.

"A parade of strong Pacific storms characteristic of a strong El Nino event will batter the state this week and will likely bring damaging flooding by the time the second storm in the series rolls through on Wednesday," Masters said.

However, Masters and meteorologist Ryan Maue of the private WeatherBell Analytics don't believe this first storm is as powerful as some other Pacific storm systems, and they caution that the storms now following it may land elsewhere.

The current forecast calls for a "kind of a nice level of bombardment" over the next two weeks -- probably not enough to cause the tremendous flooding of 1998, but then again, that year's floods didn't peak until February, Masters said.

As much as 15 inches of rain could fall in the next 16 days in Northern California, with about 2 feet of snow expected in the highest points of the Sierra Nevada, said Johnny Powell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

In Southern California, between 2 and 3.5 inches of rain is predicted to fall across the coastal and valley areas, and up to 5 inches falling in the mountains.

The first in the line of storms also drenched the desert Southwest on Tuesday and was aiming for the Gulf Coast, but should weaken to no more than a couple inches of rainfall by the time it reaches the Southeast, Masters added.

Flash flooding and flows of mud and debris were a concern, especially in places left barren by last year's wildfires. Residents of the Silverado Canyon burn area in Orange County and the Solimar burn area in Ventura County were urged to consider evacuating.

"The best time to prepare is before a weather event happens, but there is still time to prepare at least a basic emergency kit for your home, your car or your place of work," said Brad Alexander, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

In Orange County, south of Los Angeles, a homeless man in his 40s was swept off his feet by swift waters and washed nearly a mile down Brea Creek in Buena Park before he pulled himself out, county fire Capt. Steve Concialdi said. He was treated at a hospital for scraped feet and arms.

Rocks fell on the roadway through Malibu Canyon, damaging four vehicles and clogging a heavily traveled commuter route through the steep Santa Monica Mountains, and Los Angeles police were rousting the homeless from normally dry riverbeds.

As steady and sometimes heavy rains fell, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged people to clear gutters and anything in their yards that might clog storm drains, and to stockpile sandbags if their home is susceptible to flooding.

Garcetti also said that the city's homeless encampments have been mapped for the first time, and he promised shuttles to bring people to shelters with 6,000 beds.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said swift-water rescue teams are ready, but he'd rather not deploy them. Authorities hope to avoid a repeat of last September's rescue of a homeless man who scrambled up a tree with his dog when the Los Angeles River quickly grew to a torrent.

The storms are whipped up large ocean swells that could generate hazardous breaking waves at west-facing harbors. Ventura's Harbor Boulevard was closed Tuesday by flooding about a foot deep, police there said.

Altogether, the storms hold the potential for massive amounts of precipitation for a very parched state, but water managers won't be able to fully estimate this year's snowmelt until April 1, when the snowpack is typically at its deepest.

"Mother Nature has a way of surprising or disappointing us," Department of Water Resources spokesman Doug Carlson said, insisting that conservation must continue.

Californians used 20 percent less water this past November than they did in November 2013, before Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state's water emergency, the Water Resources Control Board announced Tuesday.

That falls short of Brown's 25 percent conservation mandate for a second straight month, although board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said the state remains on track to meet his overall goal.

"The fact that per-person water use dropped to 75 gallons per person per day on average is proof that Californians are clearly thinking twice before turning on the tap," Marcus said in a statement.

Despite these storms, Shawn Coburn says growers like him, working thousands of acres in the western San Joaquin Valley, expect no water this year from the federal government's vast system of reservoirs and canals. He blames strict environmental laws designed to protect endangered fish.

"I hope that it rains so much that Noah and his ark are flowing down the San Joaquin River," he said. "The people that run the system are telling us to be prepared for zero."


Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report. Smith reported from Fresno, California.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Temporary Flood Barriers to Line Stretch of LA River]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 11:03:01 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/tormenta+el+nino+lluvia+los+angeles+telemundo+521.jpg

The U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers will install temporary barriers along a nearly three-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River near Griffith Park to ensure it won't overflow during El Niño-driven storms, it was announced Friday.

The local district of the Corps of Engineers will also begin removing  vegetation that could impede the flow of storm water in the river, which sprang to life during this week's winter storms, near  Riverside Drive and the Zoo Bridge. The project will be supported with $3.1 million in federal funds, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.

The announcement comes after a week of storms that pounded Southern California, flooding streets and triggering landslides. Downpours led to heavy flooding Wednesday in the north San Fernando Valley along the 5 Freeway.

The county Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Congress and the Corps  of Engineers earlier this week to request the funding for storm preparation. Installation of the 4-foot-tall barriers -- effectively raising the side walls of  the river to increase its capacity -- will begin next week in an area between  Griffith Park and Elysian Valley.

Most of Southern California saw sunny skies again Thursday after days of powerful storms. The last major storm expected this week lashed coastal areas of California, stirring waves as high as 16 feet and flooding some low-lying streets, before turning east toward Nevada and Arizona.

For months, Californians watched El Niño -- a natural warming in the Pacific Ocean that interacts with the atmosphere -- grow stronger and waited for the skies to open up and take the edge off four years of drought. Los Angeles County captured 3.2 billion gallons during this week's storms as of Thursday afternoon, largely through 27 holding ponds, said Steven Frasher, a spokesman for the public works department. Water from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers flowed into fields that percolate into aquifers for future pumping.

But with the benefits of some drought relief came the threat of flooding -- a concern that will likely plague Southern California throughout the winter as it has in the past. In 1938, catastrophic flood in February overwhelmed Los Angeles and led to calls for a network of flood control dams and concrete channels.

This week's storms stalled traffic, closed schools and toppled trees. Many residents of foothill areas where wildfires had destroyed vegetation and created the danger of mudslides voluntarily evacuated until the rain had passed.

California and other areas were expected to begin drying out Friday before another round of light rain moved in over the weekend. More El Niño-influenced storms have been forecast over the coming months.

<![CDATA[El Niño Safety, Preparedness Tips]]>Fri, 08 Jan 2016 08:38:51 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/recomendaciones-preparacion-tormentas-lluvias-el-nino-california1.jpg

With early storms already bringing mudslides and flooding to Southern California, local officials are encouraging residents to prepare their homes and property for the coming wet weather and to arm themselves with safety tips.

Los Angeles County offers these rainy weather safety tips:

When Outside --

  • Avoid areas subject to sudden flooding. If you are caught outdoors during a heavy rain and flood climb to high ground and stay there.
  • Stay back from rushing water, as during flash floods water can increase suddenly.
  • If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, STOP! Turn around and go another way.
  • Don't walk through flooded areas. As little as six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
  • Children should NEVER play around high water, storm drains, viaducts, or arroyos.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires. Electrocution is another major source of deaths in floods. Electric current passes easily through water.

Outside Your Home --

  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance -- infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.
  • Before entering a building, inspect foundations for cracks or other damage. Do not go in if there is any chance of the building collapsing.
  • Be careful walking around. After a flood, steps and floors are often slippery with mud and covered with debris, including nails and broken glass.
  • If your home, apartment or business has suffered damage, call the insurance company or agent who handles your flood insurance policy right away to file a claim.

Preparedness --

  • Take steps to reduce your risk of future floods.
  • Follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding.
  • Use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect yourself and your property from future flood damage.
  • Check with your local fire department for additional preparedness tips.

Other safety and weather tips and resources can be found at www.lacounty.gov/elnino

<![CDATA[LA Metro Area Ready For El Niño]]>Tue, 05 Jan 2016 21:36:56 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/LA_Metro_Area_Ready_For_El_Nino_1200x675_596460611743.jpgOfficials said the City of Los Angeles is ready to weather an El Niño year. Angie Crouch reports for the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2015.]]><![CDATA[Map: Free Sandbags in Los Angeles County]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2016 12:00:29 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/12-02-2014-sandbags-storm.jpg

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[CA Water Officials Say Delta Levees Prepared for El Niño]]>Thu, 31 Dec 2015 14:51:30 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/1230-2015-levee.jpg

Joel McElroy well remembers the storms of 1997, 1998 and then again in 2006 — when the San Joaquin River crawled over its levees on Sherman Island near Antioch and threatened to pour into the nearby farmlands.

"Looked like an ocean," McElroy said at the memory, glancing at the river. "The rollers were four to six feet, wind was blowing 50 plus miles an hour."

McElroy has a stake in the survival of the levees. For two decades the California Department of Water Resources manager has overseen the island’s levee system, designed more than a century ago to protect low-lying farms from the river.

In 1997, 1998 and 2006, El Niño-fueled storms whipped-up the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta with high tides and blistering winds — pounding the levees as crews raced to shore them up. Following the 2006 storm, the state reinforced the levees with a cap of rocks.

With this year's El Niño expected to hemorrhage rain, McElroy was confident the recent fortifications on Sherman Island would hold.

"We’re ready," he said. "We’re hoping this is a big help to us."

But maintaining the Bay Area's levees to adequately standup to a rigorous storm is a Sisyphean task. Critters such as squirrels, beavers and owls regularly burrow into the levees making the ground unstable. McElroy cited instances where levee roads had collapsed beneath cars because the ground had been weakened by burrowing. Water officials said environmental protections sometimes prevent levee managers to exterminate the animals.

"One of the challenges we have in trying to repair some of the rodent damage is we have a need for a public trust doctrine to make sure that we’re taking care of the environment," said David Pesavento, a Department of Water Resources engineer.

Pesavento said factors like climate change and rising sea levels were also complicating the department’s ability to predict how the levees would fair in extreme storm conditions. He said the phenomenon known as "king tides" coupled with a particularly strong storm could potentially propel the river waters over the banks, threatening nearby farmlands and homes.

"If this levee were to fail," said Pesavento standing on Sherman Island, "then there would be millions of dollars of agriculture land that would be potentially damaged."

Pesavento said California water managers are devoting resources to updating the state's aging flood systems, which include 1,600 miles of levees throughout California.

While McElroy expressed faith the levees would hold even in heavy El Niño rains, he stopped short of guaranteeing their ability to stand as a fortress for all unforeseeable conditions.

"You could have a problem anywhere," McElroy said. "It’s Mother Nature — she’s going to do what she wants."

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Releases New El Niño Image]]>Wed, 30 Dec 2015 13:22:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/NASA+EL+NINO+NEW+1229+2015+JET+PROPULSION+LAB.jpg

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc around the world, shows no sign of weakening.

The Pasadena lab said Tuesday that a Dec. 27 image of ocean warming produced by data from its Jason-2 satellite is strikingly similar to one from December 1997, the worst El Niño on record. During that event, the "Great Ice Storm of January 1998 crippled northern New England while across the southern United States, a steady convoy of storms slammed most of California, the Southwest and drenched Texas.

The spacecraft measures sea surface heights, which indicate a thick layer of warm water when they are higher than normal.

The latest image and the 1997 image both show unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific.

El Niños are linked to dramatic alteration of weather around the world. This year's El Niño has already caused extreme weather conditions for much of the U.S., contributing to a balmy Christmas along the East Coast, and deadly storms and historic flooding in the south and midwest.

The biggest effects of El Niños in the U.S. are expected to appear in early 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts "several months of relatively cool and wet conditions across the southern United States, and relatively warm and dry conditions over the northern United States," NASA said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño Update: Odds Favor Significant Winter Storms]]>Thu, 10 Dec 2015 14:09:20 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/212*120/12-10-2015-el-nino-forecast.jpg

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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

Photo Credit: NOAA]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino Storms Could Drench California]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 18:04:04 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/RaininCali-ElNino.jpgAn unusual weather pattern and warm water in the Pacific, better known as El Nino, are set to bring major storms to California this winter. It could help ease the state's historic drought but could also result in major flooding and mudslides.]]><![CDATA[El Nino Forecast Update: Very Strong]]>Fri, 20 Nov 2015 12:43:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/11-20-2015-el-nino-forecast.JPGChances look good for a very strong El Nino. Crystal Egger has an El Nino forecast update for Friday Nov. 20, 2015.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Animal Rescue Team Brings Fluffy Companions to Train for El Nino]]>Fri, 13 Nov 2015 19:41:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/11-13-15+SMART+Rectangle.jpg

No animals were harmed in the training of the Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (SMART).

This department of the Los Angeles Animal Services has been gearing up and training for El Niño. The team ran rescue drills Thursday at a water treatment plant in the San Fernando Valley, but didn’t use live animals over safety concerns.

Instead, SMART found an equally fluffy solution by using stuffed animals they call Mock Animal for Rescue Training Exercises (MARTE).

"We use a stuffed animal in the place of a real animal so that we don't put any live animals in danger, but we still get the experience of working with an animal in various different rescue scenarios," said SMART Team Leader Annette Ramirez.

SMART boasts a 100 percent save rate since they began their specialized training.

"We rescue anything from baby squirrels to horses and everything in between," said Lt. Armando Navarrete. "One time we went to rescue a hawk that had been trapped in a warehouse for a few days."

The team uses modified human rescue equipment for most of their rescues, moving straps around and adding padding since animals generally aren’t built like humans.

That's not the only way SMART needed to adapt to suit the needs of their rescue targets.

"We need to figure out how we would get a victim who doesn't understand English, who has a stronger fight or flight reflex than a human, to let us get close enough," said Navarrete. "Anything can get trapped in a water situation, or mud or flood. Small animals are the hardest to rescue. They get stuck or trapped in the weirdest locations."

The team averages up to 25 rescues a month, according to Navarrete.

"Usually they're every other day, but sometimes we go a week without a call and then three in one day," he said.

SMART, one of only a few dedicated animal rescue teams in the country, gets called in by animal shelters or fire departments when those teams need help with the rescue.

The training for El Niño hasn't been much different from their regular training, but SMART has been doing a bit more swift water rescues in preparation for the coming storms.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Animal Services]]>
<![CDATA[In Good Sign for CA Drought, Snowpack Improves]]>Thu, 12 Nov 2015 15:09:59 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/212*120/11-12-2015-snowpack-drought-california-1.JPG

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is well ahead of last year, indicating California might see improved drought conditions after a record dry spell.

Moderate to heavy precipitation was reported in the region during the last week, getting the snow season off to a promising start. Snow in the Sierra Nevada melts during the spring, providing water for millions of Californians and replenishing the state's water reservoirs, which are well below normal due to four years of drought.

"We're off to a good start with about 30 inches at the highest peaks," said NBC4 forecaster Crystal Egger.

The snowfall comes after record low snowpack measurements during 2015 in the Sierra Nevada.

NOAA images show a dramatic difference between this month and November 2014, when no snowfall was reported in the mountain range. On Monday, a wet-weather system pushed into Northern California, where forecasts called for up to 9 inches of snow along Sierra Nevada mountain passes and up to 1 1/2 feet at the highest peaks.

But that won't mean immediate or dramatic impact on drought conditions. More than 44 percent of the state remains under exceptional drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor's most severe category. The figure remains unchanged from last week's report.

More than 97 percent of the state is under some type of drought category, showing no improvement from last week's report.

"Areas where drought was more entrenched will need abundant precipitation to continue much farther into the wet season before any notable improvement could evolve," according to this week's Drought Monitor report.

More snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada Sunday into Monday as the region benefits from a strong El Nino, warming in the Pacific Ocean that influences California's weather.

Photo Credit: NOAA]]>
<![CDATA[City of LA to Hold Town Hall Meetings About El Niño]]>Fri, 06 Nov 2015 10:47:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/8-19-15+Drought+Land+Sinking.jpg

Join the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department for town hall meetings that will help residents and businesses prepare for El Niño, and to learn more about what the City of Los Angeles is doing to prepare for this winter.

City officials and department representatives will help residents understand risks and answer questions related to wet winter weather. These regional meetings at the following locations:

Thursday, November 5, 2015: 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Glassell Park Community and Senior Center
3750 Verdugo Road, Los Angeles, CA 90065

Thursday, November 12, 2015: 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Peck Park Recreation Center
560 N Western Avenue, San Pedro, CA 90732

Thursday, December 3, 2015: 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Granada Hills Recreation Center
16730 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills, CA 91344

Wednesday, December 9, 2015: 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Westchester Recreation Center
9100 Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045

This event will feature representatives from various City of Los Angeles departments.

Information on El Niño preparedness for Los Angeles can be found at http://www.ElNinoLA.com

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[Interactive: Unusual Animals]]>Sun, 01 Nov 2015 23:03:26 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/whale+shark+san+diego+gif+1+1004.gif

 Warmer waters across the California coast have brought unprecedented sightings of marine animals along the shore and in the water. Larger fish and bigger schools of fish are staying around later in the year, and in some cases, species that have never before been documented in California have found their way to California shores. 

Above normal temperatures in the Pacific started in the winter of 2013-2014 and continue today, experts have said. Some strange marine animal sighting are the result of "The Blob", a patch of warmer water in the Pacific Ocean, and others a result of "El Nino", a warming of the water off the Pacific Coast of South America. 

Explore our interactive of some of the most unusual and odd sighting of animals along the coast of California this year. 

Editor's note: The interactive may not be compatible with all mobile devices.

Photo Credit: Emily Callahan]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Beach Businesses Mull Flood Insurance Ahead of Storms]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 22:18:06 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/knbc-laguna-beach-business-flooding.jpg

With heavy rains expected in the coming weeks, Laguna Beach business owners are assessing whether they'll need flood insurance.

Heidi Miller says she's still financially digging out from a flood that all but ruined her clothing business five years ago.

It was the holiday season, and torrential rains, along with a car stuck in a nearby flood control channel, clogged up the entire drainage system. Dozens of stores downtown were flooded with mud and storm debris.

The water level rose about waist high in Miller's store. And like many other business owners, Miller learned she didn't have flood insurance.

Insurance experts say flood insurance is available in most places, but the rates vary and it's not automatic. It is not the same as a homeowners policy, which covers water damage for things like a toilet overflowing or a pipe bursting.

These separate premiums can run $400 to $600 per year for $250,000 worth of coverage - and it'll cost more fore those in a low-lying area.

"If a car were to get stuck in the flood control like it's happened before, it would concern me a lot," insurance broker John Campbell said.
Campbell bought flood insurance for his office building because it's in a flood plain. It cost nearly $3,000.

"I think most of us here in Laguna Beach, we're very nervous about El Nino, about the extent it could be," Miller said.

Miller said she's ready to install storm doors at the first sign of rain. She'll move her clothes and shoes out. But she does not plan on buying flood insurance.

"As far as flood insurance, I've looked at it and it's really prohibitive because of cost," Miller said.

A map from the state's Office of Emergency Services shows how much of Laguna Beach is at flood risk. The map can be found here.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Agencies Warn LA Homeless About El Nino Flood Risk]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 11:37:33 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/162*120/PHOTO133649941169958454477main.jpg

Homeless people living in Southern California's storm drains and riverbeds are being warned to find other shelter before the expected arrival of significant rains spawned by the warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean known as El Nino.

The Los Angeles Times reports that officials are trying to persuade river dwellers to move to safety. If those efforts fail, authorities say, they will try to forcibly remove them if flooding is imminent.

Signs have been posted warning people to keep out of flood channels during the rainy season. In Los Angeles County, a task force is working to protect people in homeless encampments along waterways.

Encampments residents, such as 74-year-old Bill "Tattoo" LeBlanc, say they aren't afraid of flooding and that they plan to stay put.


Copyright Associated Press

Photo Credit: Elaine Lee]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino Could Increase Number of West Nile Cases: Official]]>Wed, 28 Oct 2015 12:42:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/west+nile1.JPG

Angelenos should expect West Nile virus to be an annual threat and this year's El Nino could increase the number of cases in 2016, a county health official said Tuesday.

The high number of cases seen over the last three years makes it likely that the danger is here to stay, Dr. Benjamin Schwartz of the county's Acute Communicable Disease Control group told the Board of Supervisors today.

There were 218 incidences of infection and seven deaths in 2014, followed by 110 infections and eight deaths this year as of Oct. 22, Schwartz said. Those numbers do not include Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.

"We just had another death in the Antelope Valley," Supervisor Michael Antonovich said.

Four percent of the 4,805 total human cases statewide in the 12 years between 2003 and 2014 were fatal, a review of data at the California West Nile Virus website shows.

The rising number of infections is probably due to a complex set of factors that could include changes in the climate and changes in the die-off of birds who carry the disease, Schwartz said.

The incidences of infection tend to peak in September or early October, according to a health department report.

This year's expected El Nino may make things worse next year. More rain and higher temperatures could allow mosquitoes that spread the disease from birds to humans to better survive the winter and breed more aggressively next

Though deaths are rare and typically involve patients who are already vulnerable, the virus can also cause paralysis, encephalitis and meningitis.

The most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus is by reducing mosquito breeding sites and using pesticides to kill off the pests.

Getting residents to wear protective clothing and use insect repellent, particularly during the hours of dawn and dusk, can also be effective, but difficult to encourage in hot weather.

"Everybody should take precautions," Schwartz told the board.

However, he noted that some areas seem to be at higher risk than others, including the eastern San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley and southeast Los Angeles County near Whittier and Bellflower.

Two new species of mosquito have also raised concerns about the possibility of spreading dengue fever and Chikungunya.

One of the species, colloquially referred to as the Asian Tiger Mosquito, was first found in El Monte but has now spread to 17 cities.

"Currently, these (particular) mosquitoes are just a nuisance," Schwartz said, but the county is closely monitoring any possible links to the spread of disease.

<![CDATA[Currents of Change: What Is El Nino]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:56:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-currents-change-1.JPG

El Nino is a warming of the water off the Pacific coast of South America that greatly influences weather patterns around the globe.

It is categorized by strength, ranging from weak to very strong. The current El Nino weather patern is even stronger that it was during 1997, when floods and mudslides caused destruction in California.

That means California could see some of its strongeset storms in decades.

What To Know

  • El Nino is an area of warmer-than-normal ocean water...in the eastern Pacific near the equator...centered near the coast of Peru.
  • This area of warm ocean water changes the weather patterns above the ocean, specifically, the jetstream.
  • During El Nino, the subtropical jetstream delivers warmer, wetter storms that can hold up to twice as much rainfall as normal.
  • This heavy rain tends to fall during peak rainfall times in Southern California, typically January, February, and March and can lead to flooding and mudslides.
  • El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon that returns every five to seven years. It's not whether it's coming, this time! It's already here.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Preparing for El Nino]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:55:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/209*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-prepare-sandbags.JPG

El Nino conditions could lead to significant rainfall this winter. Prepare for the effects of El Nino with the tips below.

1. Know your individual risk. Check your property and clear your drains and rain gutters of debris.

2. Trim trees near your home and make roof repairs before it starts to rain. Downed trees and branches can knock out power or seriously damage homes and vehicles during a storm. If you need to hire someone, make sure to hire a licensed contractor. Always ask to see their license, proof of insurance and never pay upfront. For more information go to the Department of Consumer Affairs site.

3. Consider flood insurance. Most homeowners' policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood insurance can be pricey, but residents who live in flood-prone areas may qualify for a federal discount. Keep in mind, most insurance policies take 30 days to go into effect.

4. If you believe your home is at risk for flooding, check with your local fire station to see if they provide free sandbags. LA County | San Bernardino County | Riverside County | Orange County | Ventura County

5. The sandbags can divert water away from your home and provide up to 2 feet of protection. Your city and county government should also have more information.

6. Make an emergency plan for your family. You need an emergency supplies kit to last you and your family up to three days, according to FEMA. Some critical items to include: a flashlight, radio, extra batteries, canned food, water bottles and medicine.

7. Don't forget to make an emergency kit for your pets.

8. Experts also advise family's to have an evacuation plan. Make sure the plan is easy for all family members to understand and be prepared to leave immediately if an evacuation is ordered.

For additional information on how to prepare for El Ninon your specific area, you can visit these links: Los Angeles County | Riverside County | San Bernardino County | Orange County

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[What's in a Name: 'Godzilla' El Nino]]>Tue, 27 Oct 2015 09:24:58 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/El_Nino_Weather_Storm_Godzilla_1200x675_552687683806.jpgThe man behind the term "Godzilla" El Nino explains where he got the name. Anthony Yanez reports.]]><![CDATA[El Nino Forecast]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:53:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-jetstream.jpg

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting a very strong El Nino -- a 2.5 on the strength scale.

That's 2.5 degrees Celsius, a sea surface temperature anomaly. The current forecast is that it will last into the winter and possibly through the spring.

The Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service, is forecasting greater-than-average rainfall for virtually all of California. And, according to NOAA's most current Winter Outlook, Southern California's probability of a wet winter has gone up from 40 to 50 percent.

In fact, the precipitation outlook calls for wetter-than-average conditions in the southern tier of the United States, from California to southern New England.

Possible heavy rain and snow due to an overall change in the jet stream are forecast to begin in December or January.

The wet weather forecast comes after consecutive years with below normal snowpack. In 2013, we finished the season with 47 percent of the normal snowpack. In 2014, the figure was down to 333, and last year saw only 5 percent -- one of the smallest snowpacks on record.

It's critical we build up the snow in Northern California. Snow forecasts are dependent on the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

Temperatures during the current El Nino could have a big impact on snowfall. NOAA is forecasting above-average temperatures across much of the West and northern half of the United States. These higher temperatures could lead to higher snow levels rather than at mid to lower elevations.

As for drought impact, the U.S. Drought Outlook shows some improvement is likely in Central and Southern California by the end of January, but not drought removal. Additional statewide relief is possible during February and March.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Get Weather Alerts on the NBCLA App]]>Tue, 27 Oct 2015 05:59:36 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Weather_Storm_Alerts_Fritz_Coleman_1200x675_552684611900.jpgYou can get weather alerts using the NBCLA news app. Fritz Coleman explains.]]><![CDATA[Historic El Nino Years]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:18:46 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/10-26-2015-historic-el-nino-current-schange.JPG

California is facing another season of significant rainfall due to the influence of El Nino. Since 1950, the state has had five strong or very strong El Ninos -- a rise in seawater temperatures that impact the region's weather.

Past El Ninos have led to average rainfall, varying from a few inches to nearly double our regular for the rain season.

The two strongest on record, 1982-83 and 1997-98, were associated with some of the highest rainfall ever recorded in downtown Los Angeles. Both seasons made the top 10 list of costliest floods for California

During the 1982-83 season, California suffered $1.2 billion in damage and 36 people were killed. A string of winter storms and a spring with double the normal rainfall brought heavy rain and flooding from the valleys to the coast, where homeowners felt the fury of the weather and vessels were tossed like toy boats in a bath.

Fifteen years later, the strongest El Nino on record influenced conditions that brought a year's worth of rainfall in one month. Seventeen people were killed and destruction totaled more than $500,000.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino's Drought Impact]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 11:05:10 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/ca-drought-stock-breaking-465639979.jpg

Will the influence of a strong El Nino erase California's historic drought?

NOAA estimates that during the next water year, rain totals need to be 135 percent above normal in Northern California, 160 percent higher than normal in the southeast and a whopping 198 percent higher than normal in the southwest and San Joaquin Valley. That last one is important because the San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural center of the state.

In order to reach that 198 percent mark, the water year would have to be the wettest on record.

Remember, it took us four years to get to this point -- one of the worst droughts in more than a century that has left more than 99 percent of the state in some form of drought. More than 46 percent of California is considered under exceptional drought, the most severe category.

California is running five-year precipitation deficits of 27 inches in the south coast and almost 50 inches along the north coast.

Rain in Northern California is important because that's where we get most of our water. The State Water Project includes a number of reservoirs, the largest being Lake Oroville.

But if the state receives record rainfall, it could strain reservoirs and dams. A lot of rain in a short amount of time could force the flushing of excess water to the ocean to keep the dams from overflowing. The vast network of storm channels brings the water to places like Dockweiler State Beach, where it's often contaminated and full of bacteria.

California also needs a healthy snowpack get out of the drought. Statistics show we'd need a snowpack that's 150 percent above average. Snow in the Sierras melts in the spring and provides water for millions of Californians.

The real unknown with this particular El Nino is "The Blob" -- warmer-than-normal water off the coast. That could contribute to warmer storms, which may lead to a decrease in the snowpack.

Even if California has substantial rain and snow, state officials do not want residents to ease up on water conservation measures. This El Nino could be followed a strong La Nina or another multiyear drought.

Photo Credit: FILE/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tracking the El Nino Data]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:14:45 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/211*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-tracking-data.JPG

NASA climatologists, university oceanographers and meteorologists at the state and federal level are all compiling data for the El Nino forecasts that will help Southern Californians prepare for what could be an exceptionally wet winter.

The UCLA Marine Operations team is one of the groups testing the waters off California's coast. Researchers use a floating lab to document the incredible warm-up of the waters off Southern California.

"As long I've been out here I've never seen surface temperatures this high," said team member Prof.  Jeroen Molemaker.

The average temperature near Santa Monica is 62 degrees this time of year. On one recent day, it was an astounding 74 degrees.

Prof. Molemaker and his students use a contraption called a Rosette Sampler that can go 700 meters deep to measure water temperature. The Rosette sends the data back to a screen on board the boat.

Their research shows that since March, the wind hasn't been circulating the water so the sun is able to bake the surface of the ocean..

"Lower winds, less mixing with the colder deep water so that heats up the surface," Molemaker said.

The UCLA researchers study only a small part of the ocean temperature here in southern California. They need to look to the sky to get a worldwide view. A global satellite developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory precisely documents the temperatures of the ocean.

"Once every ten days, the satellite completes an orbit all the way around the earth and the earth rotates underneath it so it spreads out the measurements all over the planet," said Josh Willis, NASA JPL oceanographer.

The Jason 2 satellite travels 800 miles above the earth. The onboard radar measures the height of the ocean and is accurate within an inch.

"Warm water stands taller than cold water because water literally expands as it heats up, so these areas of white and red show high sea levels and that means warmer water than normal," said Willis.

And, it's this warm water that changes the wind and jet stream patterns around the world. When El Nino is this strong, it puts the west and southern U.S. right in the middle of the storm track.

"Here in California, what El Nino is most famous for, it normally doubles our rainfall, doubles our snow pack and so everybody is looking toward this El Nino as the great drought buster or the great wet hope," said Bill Patzert, JPL oceanographer.

No two El Ninos are alike, but this one is shaping up to rival the strongest ones on record. In this case, the warm layer of water is a couple of hundred meters deep, embedded in the ocean.

Photo Credit: kn]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino's Marine Life Impact]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:55:04 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/207*120/10-26-2015-sea-marine-life-el-nino.JPG

Warmer waters due to El Nino can have a dramatic impact on Southern California's marine life.

The temperature change means more tropical fish and other types of sea life following their food sources closer to the coast.

"It's off the hook -- we've had trips with over a thousand tuna in a day," said Don Brockman, of Davey's Locker.

Brockman has fished through four El Ninos.

"It's Disneyland on the water," Brockman said.

But the phenomenon also means shark sightings -- predators following prey closer to shore. El Nino also brings close encounters with a cast of characters like sting rays and venomous yellow bellied sea snakes.

Links: Angler Chronicles | Slater Moore Photography


Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Push to Prep Campuses Ahead of El Niño]]>Thu, 22 Oct 2015 20:07:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/School+Fence+LAUSD.jpg

Los Angeles Unified School District is spending millions of dollars to make sure schools can withstand the predicted heavy rainfall from the coming El Nino.

Officials started planning about two months ago, and insist their 1,000 schools will be ready by the time the predicted heavy rains arrive, with roof repairs being fast-tracked districtwide.

"I think it's great they're conscious there needs to be repairs and they're doing it," said parent Alex Guerineaud.

Her daughter attends Ivanhoe Elementary in Silver Lake, one of 10 schools the district accelerated roof repair contracts for, all in anticipation of historic downpours predicted for this rainy season.

"We are trying to make schools as safe as we can so we do not displace any children," said Angelo Robinson, a regional facilities director for the district.

Robinson is with LAUSD's Maintenance and Operations department, which sent out surveys to all 1,000 schools in the district.

"We've sent a checklist to our plant managers that they can go through, survey all our schools and report back to maintenance on what those needs are."

The district is not only making repairs, but also clearing drains and gutters, pre-deploying portable pumps, generators, and sandbags, and stockpiling brooms, mops, and trash cans.

"I think it's great they're finding the budget to do things like that are very necessary," parent Alex Guerineaud said.

But she said she also worried about the race against time.

"You know, it's the end of October, I'm a bit concerned they're not going to have time to do the repairs but we'll see."

While repair work is under way, district officials are also working on an El Niño action plan which will be presented to the school board next month.

"What we do want parents to know is the district will be prepared. We can't anticipate every emergency that happens, but we're doing everything we can to prepare for it,” Robinson said.

The ten schools that are receiving accelerated roof repairs are:

  • Audubon Middle School
  • South Shores Performing Arts Magnet
  • Willenberg Education Center
  • 75th Street Elementary
  • 107th Street Elementary
  • Gardena Elementary
  • Canoga Park High School
  • Callahan Community Charter
  • President Avenue Elementary
  • Fremont High School

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA["Neighborhood Preparedness" is Urged With Likelihood of Strong El Niño Winter at 95 Percent]]>Tue, 20 Oct 2015 09:19:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/N5P-EL-NINO-PREPS-PKG---00000000.jpg

Extraordinary storm events last week and during summer offer a glimpse of what we could face on a broader scale during the coming El Niño Winter, state and local officials warned Monday.

"I think we've seen a pretty good hint of what we're likely to see," said Bil Croyle, deputy director of emergency preparedness for California's Department of Water Resources.

Last week, in what has been considered the fourth year of drought, flooding and mud flows trapped hundreds of motorists in northern Los Angeles County and forced the temporary closure of the 5 Freeway through the Tehachapi Mountains. In August, flash flooding west of Desert Center washed out a 10 Freeway bridge.

Pacific Ocean conditions described as El Niño are associated with a greater chance for a wet winter in California, particularly the southern half of the state, but the effect historically is not felt until January and February.

The probability of a strong El Niño continuing through winter is placed at 95 percent by the federal Climate Prediction Center. That is "about as confident as you will ever see in a climate forecast," said the center's Mike Halpert during a webinar Monday morning. 

"We could see upward of 200 percent of normal rainfall," Croyle said. "There's going to be those key areas that have been problematic in the past ... but this could be widespread."

High among concerns for Southern California are developed areas downslope from burn zones. It was the Powerhouse fire two years ago in the Angeles National Forest that left the Elizabeth Lake Road Corridor so vulnerable last week.

Even during the drought, there were mudflows in Ventura County last winter from the Camarillo Springs burn zone. The slopes in Glendora have yet to recover from the Colby Fire a year ago January.

The drought also causes additional concern for area slopes destabilized by dieback of vegetation and fallen trees.

Strong El Niño winters also tend to bring heavy surf and cause flooding along low-lying coastal areas.

Climate scientists recognize six strong El Niño events since the 1950s, said Andrea Bair of the National Weather Service. Effect on ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific is how it is measured. By that signal, this El Niño is developing as second only to 1997-98.

Four of the six El Niños were accompanied by significantly more precipitation in Southern California — but two were not, in 1965-66 and 1072-73, Bair said.

At the Monday briefing, officials urged what they called "neighborhood preparedness," encouraging meetings with neighbors to develop plans dealing with localized flooding, wind damage and power outages, as well as arrangements to evacuate.

"Really we want to get into this neighborhood preparedness model," said Jeanne O'Donnell of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management. "We start looking at not just our house, and ourselves and our family, but start looking at where you are ... getting to know your neighbors a little bit more to prevent that isolation effect, to pull in that network and that safety net so that you can really sustain yourself for a while."

As the kick off for "flood preparedness week," Monday's briefing had been scheduled before Thursday's flash flooding. The Department of Water Resources unveiled a new flood preparedness website.

Though El Niño stands ready to be the antithesis of drought — the bane of the Department of Water Resources the past four years — Croyle encouraged Californians to continue practicing water conservation, noting that recovering from so many low-water years will require more than refilling the state's portfolio of reservoirs, most well under half of capacity.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[NOAA: Strong El Niño Sets Stage for Wet Winter]]>Wed, 11 Nov 2015 14:49:08 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_623882555131.jpg

Forecasters say this winter El Nino will leave a big wet but not necessarily snowy footprint on much of the United States, including parched California.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration on Thursday issued its winter forecast, heavily influenced by one of the strongest El Ninos on record.

NOAA expects a cooler and wetter winter for the South. California is forecast to get more than the usual precipitation during the critical time its reservoirs usually fill, but there's no guarantee. Only northern tier states, the Ohio Valley states and Alaska should be dry.

Forecasters see a milder, warmer winter north of the Mason-Dixon line and for all of California and Nevada. Texas and the Deep South are forecast to be cold.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino's 'Strong Influence' Might Ease CA Drought]]>Thu, 15 Oct 2015 12:40:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_623882555131.jpg

Weather systems influenced by El Nino will bring above-average rainfall, but not necessarily the much-needed snowfall that parched California needs to improve long-term drought conditions, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA on Thursday issued its winter forecast, heavily influenced by one of the strongest El Ninos on record. California is forecast to get more than the usual precipitation during the critical time its reservoirs usually fill, but there's no guarantee.

"A strong El Nino is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter," said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Nino are favored, El Nino is not the only player.

"Cold-air outbreaks and snowstorms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal time scale."

The already strong El Nino has a 95 percent chance of lasting through the winter before weakening in the spring, according to NOAA. In Southern California, the probability of a wet winter has increased from 40 percent to 50 percent with some areas of the state in the 70-percent range.

In the last 65 years, there have been just six strong El Ninos and only two led to weather patterns that produced major precipitation statewide, according to the California Department of Water Resources. One of the strongest occurred in 1997-98, when storms damaged strawberry and artichoke crops, pushed houses off hillside foundations and washed out highways.

The weather pattern influenced by El Nino, a warming of the water off the Pacific coast of South America, means central and southern California might see some drought improvement by the end of January, according to NOAA.

"While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought," said Halpert. "California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that's unlikely.

The state finished its water year on Oct. 1 as one of the state's most severe dry periods on record. Recovering from four years of below-average precipitation will depend largely on when and where snowfall occurs -- two factors NOAA's seasonal outlook does not predict.

Those forecasts depend largely on the strength and track of a storm. Heavy snowfall accumulation in the Sierra Nevada would bode well for California's drought outlook because springtime runoff from melting mountain snow flows into the state's major reservoirs, providing water for millions of Californians.

More than 97 percent of the state is under moderate to exceptional drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. The weekly report shows 46 percent of the state under exceptional drought, the most severe of the Monitor's four drought categories.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order mandating a statewide 25-percent reduction in urban water use. Californians surpassed that mandate to save water for a third consecutive month, using nearly 27 percent less in August than the same month in 2013, according to the state's water board.

September figures will be released later this month.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Colby Residents Concerned About El Niño Hillslides]]>Wed, 07 Oct 2015 21:25:51 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Colby_Residents_Concerned_About_El_Nino_Hillslides_1200x675_540651075804.jpgSandbags were available to residents ahead of expected heavy rains in the Colby area. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 5 & 6. (Published Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015.)]]><![CDATA[Currents of Change: What Is El Nino?]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:59 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-currents-change-1.JPG

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Currents of Change: El Nino Forecast]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-strength.jpgA look at the 2015-2016 El Nino forecast.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Currents of Change: Historic El Ninos]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Web_El_Nino_Historic_1200x675_551956547850.jpgCalifornia has faced strong El Nino conditions before.]]><![CDATA[Currents of Change: El Nino and the California Drought]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:33 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Web_El_Nino_Drought_1200x675_551957571656.jpgA look at what kind of impact El Nino will have on the drought. ]]><![CDATA[Currents of Change: El Nino and Marine Life]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:24 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Web_El_Nino_Marine_Life_1200x675_551958595821.jpgEl Nino's warmer waters could have a significant impact on marine life. ]]><![CDATA[Currents of Change: Preparing for El Nino]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:19:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Web_El_Nino_Prepare_1200x675_551961667831.jpgEl Nino conditions could lead to significant rainfall this winter. Prepare for the effects of El Nino with these tips.]]><![CDATA[Currents of Change: Tracking Data]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 18:20:09 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/211*120/10-26-2015-el-nino-tracking-data.JPGResearchers use different types of tool to track El Nino.

Photo Credit: kn]]>
<![CDATA[Rush to Get Rain-Ready as El Nino Looms]]>Thu, 24 Sep 2015 19:40:38 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/0825-2015-roofing.jpgNeighborhoods across Southern California are buzzing with crews installing new gutters, and clearing out old ones, before El Nino arrives. Randy Mac reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura County Preps for Winter of El Niño Storms]]>Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:33:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150930-ventura-county-levee.jpg

The scenario of a massive mudflow clogging a flood control channel seemed almost unimaginable on another 80 degree, blue-sky day of drought. 

But for officials in Ventura County, the prospect of an extraordinarily wet El Niño winter means need to prepare and drill for a sudden transformation from running dry to overflowing.
"We have to be concerned, and that's why we're translating that concern into preparation," said Mike Powers, Ventura County CEO.
The county's Emergency Operations Center in the city of Ventura took charge of managing and directing the response to the exercise as it will for the real thing.
One of the key elements to be put to the test is a new data management system for tracking and processing multiple emergency reports during a natural disaster or other widespread crisis, Powers said.
In the field, a public works crew on patrol in the agricultural community of Somis came across the blocked culvert scenario, and deployed an excavator to clear it.
Officials acknowledged strong storms could bring far worse situations, including the failure of a levee that is adjacent to major recent development in the city of Oxnard.
Southern California has often received far greater than normal winter rainfall during past occurrences of the so-called El Niño phenomenon, marked by warming tropical waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean offshore from the Americas.
The chance of El Nino continuing through winter--when the impact is felt most--is 95 percent, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
Heavy rain winters--including one in 2004-05 that was not linked to El Niño--have taken a toll on the county.
After a series of strong storms in January 2005, a massive mudslide buried a portion of the community of La Conchita, claiming 10 lives.  At its mouth, the Ventura River crested over its banks, partially flooding the Ventura Beach RV resort, and closing the 101 Freeway where it crosses the river.
The RV resort had suffered even worse flooding a decade earlier during the El Niño winters of 1995 and 1992, when some parked vehicles were literally carried out to sea.
During winters since those episodes, resort management has kept vehicles farther from the river, and before forecasted major storms, moved its guests to the county fairgrounds, said TJ Staben, whose family owns the resort.
A major public safety concern remains the homeless who for decades have set up encampments amid the riverbed foliage during dry times.
In 1992, some of the unpermitted campers were caught up in the sudden flooding, and though several were rescued, one man died. The riverbed was made off limits, but keeping people out has been a continuing challenge.
In anticipation of this El Niño winter, county agencies have already begun clearing out encampments and relocating the homeless to temporary shelter, said Jeff Pratt, director of Ventura County Public Works.
Another concern he cited is the aging earthen levee that keeps the Santa Clara River from the Oxnard flood plain.
Portions of the levee have failed during three previous winter storms, Pratt said.
In the years since, the major planned community River Park and the Collection shopping mall have been developed in Oxnard not far from the levee.
Pratt said significant repairs and reinforcements have been made over the years and as recently as this summer, but ultimately the levee will have to be rebuilt at an estimated cost of as much as $50 million, for which funding is yet to be arranged.  The county is hoping for help from the Army Corps of Engineers, the builder of the original levee prior to World War II.
Resident JP Latham, who moved to California and settled in Oxnard three years ago, said he had taken note of the levee work a month ago and is not concerned about flood risk, but then added: "I might change my mind in an instant if the river rises quickly."
The Public Works director said officials will keep a close watch on the levee, and have a number of evacuation routes ready to be used if needs be. 
"If it fails, we'll just start getting people out of the way," Pratt said.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Tips for Hiring a Contractor]]>Wed, 07 Oct 2015 08:37:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/179*120/contractor.jpg]]><![CDATA[LA County Gears Up For Emergency El Niño Plans]]>Tue, 25 Aug 2015 17:08:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/el-nino-graphic-noaa.jpg

As anticipation rises for a powerful El Niño this winter, Los Angeles County officials said Tuesday they are gearing up to manage emergency responses to potentially strong rainstorms that could bring dangerous flash flooding and mud and debris slides.

County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich said it is critical that the county assesses its risks and vulnerabilities.

The board directed multiple county departments to report back in 30 days on emergency response plans, flood-control capacity and plans to capture and store stormwater.

The most recent forecasts show El Niño reaching the "very strong" category, and likely to persist through the winter months when the most rain and snow is likely to fall. The odds of El Niño continuing through winter are now put at 90 percent, with an 85 percent likelihood it will continue until early spring.

Scientists are warning that this El Niño could be even stronger than 1997, when storms caused more than a half-billion dollars in damage and led to 17 deaths.

Experts have said, however, that even a massive El Niño will not solve the state's drought. The drought has already contributed to a busy wildfire season, which will exacerbate debris flows when storms come.

Strong El Niño conditions are associated with wetter winters in Southern California and across the southern tier of the United States, while other areas in the states, Central America, and the western Pacific receive less precipitation.

Photo Credit: NOAA]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño Forecast Reaches 'Very Strong' Category]]>Fri, 14 Aug 2015 09:00:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/189*120/08-13-2015-el-nino-ocean-temperatures.jpg

Chances continue to increase that Southern California will get major drought relief this winter from storms associated with powerful El Niño conditions, according to climate scientists and a new analysis from the federal Climate Predication Center.

The most recent forecasts show El Niño reaching the "very strong" category, and likely to persist through the winter months when the most rain and snow is likely to fall. The odds of El Niño continuing through winter are now put at 90 percent, with an 85 percent likelihood it will continue until early spring.

"It definitely looks like the real deal," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "This is the Godzilla El Niño if it matures and comes to actual fruition."

Strong El Niño conditions are associated with wetter winters in Southern California and across the southern tier of the United States, while other areas in the states, Central America, and the western Pacific receive less precipitation.   

Data-gathering satellites have been monitoring the development of El Niñ, the term given the phenomenon in which tropical waters in the Pacific Ocean become warmer than typical near the Americas, and cooler in the western Pacific.

A larger change in temperature means a stronger El Niño. A weak El Niño has minimal impact, as last winter when drought-stricken California received below average precipitation for a fourth straight year.

The term was first applied by Spanish speakers in the Americas near the equator, where the phenomenon arrives near Christmastime. "El Niño" refers to the Christ child.

In this year's data, Patzert sees a pattern remarkably similar to the growth of the last major El Niño in 1997-98.

"Right now the signal we see, from the satellite, is larger than August of 1997," Patzert said. "This could be the El Niño of our generation."

Its moisture being seen as a potential rescuer during drought represents a role reversal for El Niño, which was blamed for billions of dollars in storm damage in 1997-98 and previously in 1982-83, when piers were torn apart by massive waves and storm surges, and floods and mudslides poured from hills.

"El Niño is definitely a double-bladed sword," Patzert said.

Some "preliminary impact" is already being felt, he said. Patzert is reluctant to ascribe specific meteorological events to the direct influence of El Niño. But he said the monsoonal moisture from the south that brought Los Angeles almost unheard of July rain last month is consistent with El Niño's development, as is the drought developing in Panama.

Since 1950, there have been 22 seasons with an El Niño. Twelve brought above-average rainfall, as much as two to three times normal. February, 1998 recorded 17 inches of rain. But El Niño is not the only factor influencing winter storms, and in fact there was no El Niño during 2004-05, LA's single wettest season recorded since the 19th century. 

In most years, equatorial trade winds blowing from east to west across the Pacific tend to disrupt the accumulation of warmer water along the Americas. In El Niño years, those trade winds largely disappear during late summer and fall.  

"The next three months will tell the tale," Patzert said.

But even a strong and wet El Niño winter likely will not be enough by itself to undo the water debt run up during the past three and a half years of drought, Patzert and water experts agree.

"It's not a drought-buster," but could be a "down payment" toward ending the drought, Patzert said.

Also being watched closely is a longer term phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) which cycles between wetter and drier phases than tend to last 20 years or so before a phase shift.

Western America has been under the influence of a drier phase that began around the turn of the new millennium 15 years ago.

Patzert sees evidence the PDO may have begun shifting back to a wetter phase, which would be accompanied by a more frequent occurrence of El Niño conditions.  

"That would be the drought buster," Patzert said.

But he emphasized the evidence of a PDO shift is not clear cut, and may not become apparent for several years.

Photo Credit: NOAA
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<![CDATA[Scientists Forecast Extremely Wet El Niño]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 10:13:56 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Scientists_Forecast_Extremely_Wet_El_Nino_1200x675_504487491545.jpgA "very strong" El Nino could be good for California, which is in its fourth year of drought. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015.]]><![CDATA[Respect the Blob - It May be a Drought Killer]]>Thu, 23 Apr 2015 08:13:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150422-the-blob-drought-pacific.jpg

The Blob is back – and this one is no joke.

Notwithstanding its silly name, this meteorological phenomenon could herald the impending end of California's devestating drought, according to JPL's Bill Patzert and other respected climate scientists.

The Blob refers to an amorphous mass of water warmer than what surrounds it off the coast of North America. Unusually cold or warm water masses have been linked to climate patterns onshore, notably the wet phenomenon dubbed El Nino, and its dry counterpart, La Nina.

Patzert sees the Blob as a precursor.

The last time it appeared – in 1997 – it was followed within months by one of California's wettest El Nino winters ever. Indeed, satellite data reveal an unusually large mass of warm water in the equatorial Pacific, the trademark of El Nino, is now moving toward the Americas.

If the El Nino continues developing as expected, so-called "pineapple express" storms would be expected to begin arriving next winter.

Till then, California would still need to get through another dry summer. In recent weeks, after the past winter ended with a whimper, Gov. Jerry Brown set a statewide water conservation goal of 25 percent, and California's Water Resources Control Board has set specific reducation targets for individual water districts.

Patzert urged Californians not to abandon conservation measures in expectation of relief nearly a year away.

Even more significantly, other indicators dating back 16 months signal a shift in a longterm pattern that alternates between two phases, one conducive to El Ninos, the other to La Ninas. It's called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and its last shift to warmer and wetter weather in the Southwest coincided with the end of the major drought during the 1970s. There followed a series of wet El Nino winters during the next two decades.

In the late 90s – after the El Nino Winter of '98 – the PDO shifted back to a cool, dry phase for the Southwest, coinciding with an extended period of below average precipitation in this region, culminating in the current drought now in its fourth year.

The PDO shift will be a "drought buster," Patzert predicted.

"Whether it's this year or next, it's coming. This will not be a mega drought," Patzert said, quashing the notion that the type of decades-long drought that geological records indicate can occur every few centuries.

However, climate patterns cannot be expected to replicate exactly what occurred during previous PDO phases, and could be affected by the even longer term pattern of global climate change.

The looming El Nino has implications for the northeast as well, which just endured one of its coldest and snowiest winters on record. El Nino conditions typically result in milder winters in the U.S. northern tier.

Meantime, testing phase is nearly complete for another NASA-JPL project to gather climate-relevant data from space – specifically variations in soil moisture. Because the satellite uses two both active and passive data-gathering technologies, the project has been dubbed SMAP, for Soil Moisture Active Passive. Its instruments measure soil radiation, and from that moisture levels can be calculated.

With instruments calibrated, the project can move into the science phase next month, said Dr. Eni Njoku, a SMAP scientist who focuses on carbon and water cycles.

The data are expected to have far reaching applications, including assisting agricultural planning, flood prediction, and drought monitoring.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Dramatic Photos of California's Drought]]>Fri, 21 Aug 2015 06:52:37 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/8-19-15+Drought+Land+Sinking.jpgHistorically dry winters combined with years of below-average rainfall have taken a toll on California. From parched reservoirs to dry river beds, the effects can be seen across the state.

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[Garcetti Talks Climate Change]]>Sun, 20 Sep 2015 19:29:16 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/NC_GARCETTI__CLIMATE_CHANGE_SUMMIT_092015_1200x675_528450115752.jpgLos Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on this week's Climate Change Summit with the Chinese. NBC4's Conan Nolan covers other topics as well: El Nino, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Austin Beutner, the Broad and Clifton's Cafeteria.]]><![CDATA[Drought: How Thirsty Are California Crops?]]>Wed, 13 May 2015 20:41:45 -07002015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]>2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]>https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/alfalfa.JPGMajor crops grown in California can soak up an incredible amount of water each year, according to a 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute.

Photo Credit: File Photo (Michael Duva)]]>
<![CDATA[Lake Mead Levels Could Fall Dangerously Low]]>Wed, 20 May 2015 15:30:14 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP208929123314_0_LakeMead.jpgFederal water managers released a report Monday projecting that Lake Mead's water levels will fall below a point in January 2017 that would force supply cuts to Arizona and Nevada.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Strong El Niño Builds in Pacific]]>Mon, 10 Aug 2015 16:28:31 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/el+nino+tracker+nolan+88.JPG

Meteorologists say odds are good for a wet California winter as a strong El Niño builds in the Pacific Ocean.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that scientists say a significant El Niño is more than 90 percent likely.

Meteorologist Scott Sukup of the National Weather Service says above-normal rainfall could help ease the state's drought.

Previous El Niño events have dumped more than 25 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles.

With the state in the fourth year of drought, rainfall would be welcome, though it could bring mudslides to areas scorched by wildfire.

San Bernardino National Forest officials have been asking communities ravaged by fire to prepare for rain after thunderstorms Monday caused mud flows.

The weather phenomenon could also cause more hurricanes in parts of the Pacific.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

<![CDATA[Stunning Images of the Shrinking Salton Sea]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 08:19:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP752235143558drought10.jpgOnce-bustling marinas in California's largest lake are now bone-dry.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sizzling 2015 Almost Sure to Be 'Warmest on Record': Scientist]]>Mon, 20 Jul 2015 18:57:54 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_843917780791.jpg

Earth dialed the heat up in June, smashing warm temperature records for both the month and the first half of the year.

Off-the-charts heat is "getting to be a monthly thing," said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. June was the fourth month of 2015 that set a record, she said.

"There is almost no way that 2015 isn't going to be the warmest on record," she added.

NOAA calculated that the world's average temperature in June hit 61.48 degrees Fahrenheit (16.33 Celsius), breaking the old record set last year by 0.22 degrees (.12 degrees Celsius). Usually temperature records are broken by one or two one-hundredths of a degree, not nearly a quarter of a degree, Blunden said.

And the picture is even more dramatic when the half-year is considered.

The first six months of 2015 were one-sixth of a degree warmer than the old record, set in 2010, averaging 57.83 degrees (14.35 Celsius).

The old record for the first half of the year was set in 2010, the last time there was an El Nino — a warming of the central Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide. But in 2010, the El Nino petered out. This year, forecasters are predicting this El Nino will get stronger, not weaker.

"If that happens, it's just going to go off the charts," Blunden said.

June was warm nearly all over the world, with exceptional heat in Spain, Austria, parts of Asia, Australia and South America. Southern Pakistan had a June heat wave that killed more than 1,200 people — which, according to an international database, would be the eighth deadliest in the world since 1900. In May, a heat wave in India claimed more than 2,000 lives and ranked as the fifth deadliest on record.

May and March also broke monthly heat records, which go back 136 years. Initially NOAA figured February 2015 was only the second hottest February on record, but new data came in that made it too the hottest, Blunden said. Earth has broken monthly heat records 25 times since the year 2000, but hasn't broken a monthly cold record since 1916.

"This is what anthropogenic global warming looks like, just hotter and hotter," said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

<![CDATA[Storms Provide "Foothold for Drought Recovery"]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 02:00:46 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/221*120/12-18-2014-drought-monitor-ca.jpg

A string of storms that marched across California this month provided enough rain to boost reservoir levels and slightly improve drought conditions after three consecutive dry years.

The state still likely needs several consecutive wet winters, but the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report offers reason for "cautious" optimism with several months left in California's wet season. This month's storms brought precipitation to most of California, pushing the Sacramento River to its highest level since Dec. 31, 2005.

Consecutive days of rain and snow led to a decrease in the percentage of the state under the Monitor's most severe drought category, called exceptional drought (D4). Last week, 55 percent of California was in the exceptional drought category. The latest report shows 32 percent of state in the D4 category.

Nearly 95 percent of the state remains under severe drought, according to the Monitor.

California's critically low water reservoirs remain well below historical average for mid-December, but Drought Monitor researchers noted "good capacity increases" of 6 to 10 percentage points in northern and central California's major reservoirs.

"It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said Jay Famiglietti, a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A study of satellite data released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory earlier this week found that at the peak of the drought earlier this year, water storage in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 11 trillion gallons below normal seasonal levels.

"With several more months still left in the wet season, it is possible that additional storms similar to the ones that just occurred will continue to chip away at the long-term hydrological drought, and the addition of lower temperatures would help build the snow pack," according to the report.

Rainfall has been trending above normal in many places so far during the 2014-2015 rain season that began July 1. As of Wednesday, downtown Los Angeles had collected 4.47 inches, more than 1.4 inches more than normal to date. A year earlier, it had collected just 0.86 inch to date. Downtown San Francisco had tallied 13.40 inches, or nearly 6.5 inches more than normal to date.

But drought improvement will depend largely on this season's precipitation in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Springtime runoff from the melting Sierra Nevada mountain range snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians. In November, the southern Sierra had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.

The report noted that temperatures remained above normal, so more rain than snow was reported at higher elevations.

The tropical Pacfic Ocean phenomenon known as El Nino also could have a say in California's drought situation. The chance of El Nino weather conditions, which can potentially usher moisture into California, developing this winter for the Northern Hemisphere increased to 65 percent in December.

That figure represents an increase from last month's estimate of 58 percent.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent -- a mark that has not been met, according to recent estimates. Farmers in the Central Valley have fallowed fields and mandatory water restrictions are in effect as California faces a fourth-consecutive dry year.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor
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<![CDATA[El Nino Chance Increases to 65 Percent]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 01:59:35 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/236*120/12-05-2014-EL-NINO-sea-surface-latest_sst.jpg

The chance of El Niño weather conditions developing this winter for the Northern Hemisphere increased to 65 percent, but any hopes for drought relief during California's three-year dry spell should be tempered.

The latest figure, released Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center, represents an increase from last month's estimate of 58 percent. The tropical Pacfic Ocean phenomenon affects weather patterns and can potentially usher moisture into California, which needs about 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from the historic drought, according to experts.

If El Niño develops, forecasters said it is expected to be weak. A weak system probably would not generate enough rainfall this winter to significantly improve drought conditions in California, which recently marked its driest three years on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center said.

El Niño forecast updates are released on the first Thursday of every month.

Nearly 80 percent of the state is under extreme drought, the second most severe category listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. One year ago, about 28 percent of the state was under the severe drought category.

Not all of the precipitation from this week's California storms could be included in the latest Drought Monitor report released Thursday. Along with rain and snow, drought monitors consider the water levels in reservoirs, rivers and streams, soil moisture, and dozens of other factors.

The past two months have brought several back-to-back rainstorms, and the rain in late November and early December was among the heaviest that some areas had seen in years. The system dropped widely varying amounts of rain, ranging from trace levels in some areas to 14.5 inches at Yucaipa Ridge in the San Bernardino Mountains.

San Francisco saw 4.3 inches, while 1.5 inches fell on downtown Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service. The San Francisco Bay Area reached or exceeded normal annual rainfall totals for the first time in years.

The storm put downtown Los Angeles slightly above normal for the season to date. Since July 1, it has recorded 2.30 inches of rain compared with the normal average of 2.14 inches by Dec. 4.

Climatologists have stressed that California needs to see a consistent pattern of storms to move beyond its driest three years on record. Critically low reservoir levels and diminishing Sierra Nevada snowpack prompted Gov. Jerry Brown in January to declare a drought emergency and ask Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. California's reservoirs are at 39 percent to 60 percent of normal.

Before this week's storms, snowpack in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent. Springtime runoff from the melting snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

Photo Credit: NOAA
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<![CDATA[El Niño Chances Decrease for Drought-Stricken California]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 02:02:31 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/el+nino+tracker+nolan+88.JPG

Just a few months ago, the forecast for a wet winter looked promising. But the summer has revealed a drier future.

Now, the climate foresight is part of the extensive oceans exhibit at the California Science Center in Exposition Park with a global view of what covers 70 percent of the earth.

Chuck Kopczak, the center's curator of ecology, has been keeping a close watch on a developing El Niño in the western Pacific Ocean, which has led to wet winters in Southern California in the past.

"We're hoping for rain, we need rain," Kopczak told NBC4 Thursday. "That warm water that is evaporating into the atmosphere bringing more humidity, more moisture in the air, and of course if we've got more moisture in the air, there's more water to fall as rain."

NASA satellites indicated a strong El Niño was taking shape this year, but the National Weather Service reduced the odds that it will develop by next winter from 80 percent to 65 percent.

The NWS found the warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean had actually reversed in July, and an expected atmospheric signal of El Niño has yet to emerge.

"And so it's the difference in air pressure between those two points in the Pacific Ocean that sort of details or determines how strong an El Niño might be," Kopczak said.

With climate so difficult to predict, experts still aren't sure the amount of warming that will take place, and how much rain -- if any -- will be the result.

"We just hope," Kopczak said. "All the cards have to fall in the right order in order for it to produce a lot of rain necessarily."

<![CDATA[El Nino Watch May Be Long Wait for Drought-Parched CA]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 02:03:59 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/219*120/00000hjhkjcms.jpg

An "El Nino Watch" has officially begun for drought-plagued California, offering a measure of hope for heavier rainfall next winter, but no guarantees, warned one world-renowned El Nino authority.

"It is exceptionally iffy," cautioned Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that straddles the border between Pasadena and La Canada Flintridge. Patzert has been studying the El Nino phenomenon for more than three decades.

The El Nino Watch was declared Thursday by the federal Climate Prediction Center. It put the odds at fifty-fifty that El Nino conditions would develop during the year and into next winter, usually California's wet season.

El Nino winters have often been marked by series of warm, wet storms, pushing Southern California rainfall totals far above the average in Los Angeles of 14 inches. The last major El Nino winter, 1997-98, drenched LA with 31 inches.

Radar satellites can see indications of a developing El Nino coming in the Pacific Ocean tropics off Central America and upper South America.

Water warming above normal temperatures is an El Nino hallmark. The name, a reference
in Spanish to the Christ Child, stems from the weather phenomenon's history of becoming apparent to the Latin American coast around Christmas.

At this point, warming in the eastern Pacific (near the west coast of the Americas) has yet to begin, and recent measurements reflect "neutral," according to the Diagnostic Discussion posted Thursday by the Prediction Center.

"There is considerable uncertainty as to whether El Niño will develop during the summer or fall. If westerly winds continue to emerge in the western equatorial Pacific, the development of El Niño would become more likely."

Getting clarity may take several more months, Patzert believes.

"It's way too early to call this El Nino."

Even if it does develop, Patzert noted that not all Ninos are created equal.

"Often a smaller or medium El Nino won't mean anything," Patzert said.

El Nino and its opposite La Nina tend to have one-year periods, that play out against a longer-term phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, with -- as its name implies -- a period on the order of decades.

The "PDO" was in a wet phase during the last two decades of the 20th century. The El Nino of 1982-83 brought Los Angeles nearly 40 inches of rain, more that season than the historically far wetter Pacific Northwest received.

Around the turn of the millenium, the PDO switched phases, said Patzert, noting that 11 of the last 16 years have been drier than average in Los Angeles, and that the Ninos in this period have been less severe, with seasonal rainfall totals in some cases below average.

During the last El Nino in 2010-11, only a rare "atmospheric river" in December, 2010
pushed that season's rainfall above normal.

Patzert would not be surprised if the Oscillation's dry phase continues another decade. There is evidence that before California's recorded history began in the 18th century, some droughts endured for centuries.

"There's nothing more I'd like to see than an El Nino charging over the horizon to bust this drought," Patzert reflected wistfully, wearing a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt on another winter day of Hazy sunshine.

But he thinks those who are counting on an El Nino to end the drought should be ready for a reality check.

"A year from now we might still be talking the D word--Drought."