California will be hit by the biggest El Niño on record this winter. The latest forecast comes after months of warnings that an El Niño will very likely hit the West Coast this year. Now, every outlook shows a more than 90 per cent chance it is coming – and it’s going to be big. The worst impact of the storm is expected to hit in late fall or early winter.
The weather event that has been dubbed the ‘Godzilla El Niño’ or ‘Bruce Lee El Niño’, looks set to bring more rain and tropical cyclones to the Pacific Southwest since records began in 1950.
“If this lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayhem,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño.”
Unfortunately, analysts warn it still won’t be enough to atone for four years of record-breaking droughts. In addition, the dry and parched land will struggle to withstand the three-month storm, which is likely to result in an onslaught of mudslides and floods.
Conditions in the Pacific are already more turbulent this summer than they were at this time in 1997, when America experienced one of the most intense El Niños in recent years.
In October 1997 a hurricane fueled by El Niño slammed into Acapulco, causing widespread flooding and hundreds of deaths. It hit Southern California a few weeks later. Then the skies opened up above Orange County in what was described as the worst downpour in a century. After more than seven inches fell in just 24 hours – mudslides destroyed homes, neighborhoods flooded and roads were covered.
There is a 90 per cent chance a strong El Niño will hit California and an 85 per cent chance it will last until spring 2016, according to the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
El Niño is caused by a shift in the distribution of warm water in the Pacific Ocean around the equator.
Usually the wind blows strongly from east to west, due to the rotation of the Earth, causing water to pile up in the western part of the Pacific. This pulls up colder water from the deep ocean in the eastern Pacific.However, in an El Niño, the winds pushing the water get weaker and cause the warmer water to shift back towards the east. This causes the eastern Pacific to get warmer. But as the ocean temperature is linked to the wind currents, this causes the winds to grow weaker still and so the ocean grows warmer, meaning the El Niño grows. This change in air and ocean currents around the equator can have a major impact on the weather patterns around the globe by creating pressure anomalies in the atmosphere.