John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The seasonal drenching shows a big geographical consistency … until it doesn’t.
This winter’s El Niño has delivered monumental precipitation to the West … up until now. Dry, unseasonably warm weather is blanketing California—Oakland hit a record high of 81 degrees Monday—raising fears the infernal drought might escape with hardly a dent in its hide.
Whether that happens is anybody’s guess. The Climate Prediction Center sees below-average chances of Western rains in the next couple weeks, but there’s always the possibility late-season storms could deliver a soaking. Gamblers wanting to bet on the coming weather might find this NOAA graphic handy, as it illustrates the winter rainfalls that've occurred during El Niños back to 1950.
El Niños are ordered from strong at top to weak at bottom, though commonalities are evident throughout most despite intensity. Namely, it often gets wetter in the South and West, excluding weird winters like 1976-77 and 1963-64, when many unexpected regions were drier. “This variability from one El Niño to the next is one reason why [Climate Prediction Center] scientists always talk about seasonal climate outlooks in terms of ‘odds,’ ‘chances,’ or ‘probabilities’—not guarantees,” writes NOAA’s Rebecca Lindsey.
Here’s a larger version if you really want to get in there and scrutinize: