SAN DIEGO — El Niño is anticipated to stick around across the country through winter for the first time in years, bringing with it seasonal weather that’s likely to be wetter than normal.
The climate pattern is expected to be a stark change from the last three winters that have been dominated by La Niña, which typically means a dry winter in the southern half of the U.S. and colder, wetter conditions across the north.
This year’s winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) forecasts that the southern states have the best chance to get heavier-than-average precipitation from December to February.
After the driest three-year period on record, California has already been battered by extensive precipitation this year, between a series of unrelenting atmospheric rivers that hit last winter and more recently, Tropical Storm Hilary.
The rainfall with these events eased most of the state out of drought conditions, including in San Diego County.
Locally, the storms broke regional records with rainfall totals significantly exceeding the region’s normal levels — in some parts coming in at nearly double the annual average.
Moving into the wettest months of the year, however, forecasters with the CPC are predicting that San Diego may not be as likely to see heavier-than-normal rainfall despite El Niño conditions remaining in place.
In an outlook issued on Oct. 19, weather officials estimated that San Diego and Imperial counties will likely see equal chances of having either an above or below normal winter with regards to seasonal precipitation.
The odds of heavy precipitation differs from most parts of California. According to NOAA, central and northern areas of the state have about a 33 to 50% chance of seeing above average precipitation with the El Niño climate pattern.
Outside California, the CPC outlook places the greatest odds for heavier rain from December to February in parts of the Gulf Coast, Southeast and lower mid-Atlantic.
While it could be a toss-up whether San Diego sees heavy rain amid El Niño, NOAA forecasters predict that it’s not likely to impact drought conditions in the region.
Nearly all of California was eased out of a drought entirely following the deluge of rain brought on by the consecutive weather events earlier this year. As of Oct. 19, the U.S. Drought Monitor estimates that about 88.14% of the state remains free of these conditions.
The seasonal drought outlook — issued by CPC side-by-side with the precipitation forecast — shows that conditions are likely to remain the same from November 2023 through January 2024.
According to the outlook, the only parts of the country where drought development will be likely is in parts of Washington and Hawai’i. Drought conditions are also likely to persist across much of the South and portions of the central U.S.
Although, weather officials say it’s important to note that these outlooks about how El Niño may impact the country are not a guarantee — there’s always a likelihood that local impacts could be minimal.
“Seasonal outlooks help communities prepare for what is likely to come in the months ahead and minimize weather’s impacts on lives and livelihoods,” NOAA wrote in an outlook update.
Moving closer to the winter months, forecasters will be able to develop a clearer picture of what may be in store for parts of the country as the El Niño climate pattern persists.