An early, short winter expected for most of California

October 16, 2013
Media Contact— Caitlin Coomber / ccoomber@ucsd.edu / 858-534-0580

Meteorologists are predicting an early but short wet season in California this winter, with parts of Northern California potentially seeing above normal snowfall at ski resorts.

Southern California may see more precipitation this year, too, but likely not enough to reverse drought conditions.

Ken Clark, an expert senior meteorologist with the private firm AccuWeather, is forecasting about 50 percent more snow than last winter in the northern Sierra mountains, north of Tahoe, bringing snowfall to normal levels this season.

“Skiers and snowboarders can be happy,” he said. Wetter conditions could also offer relief to the currently meager Sierra snowpack, a major source of drinking and irrigation water for the state.

Coastal areas north of Point Conception can expect a soggy December, he said. By February, drier-than-normal conditions are predicted to prevail, marking a potentially early end to winter.

In Southern California and the Central Valley, which have experienced two consecutive unusually dry winters, weather models are predicting about 30 percent more rain this winter.

The Los Angeles area, for example, is forecasted to receive about 4.6 inches of winter-time rain, compared with a historical average of 9.25 inches, Clark said.

“We won’t see normal conditions but a wetter winter is still good news for fire fighters,” Clark said. “More rain could help delay the onset of fire season, and maintain reservoirs and lakes for boaters and recreational fishing.”

William Patzert, an oceanographer and climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that, “The smart money is on a dry winter in California.“

“Ocean conditions are loading the dice for drier and cooler than normal conditions to prevail,” Patzert said.

Since 1998, the ocean has been in a cold phase of a long-term cycle in ocean temperature variability, known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, he explained. This mode of the ocean climate system, associated with cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the northern Pacific Ocean, stacks the deck in favor of drier, cooler temperatures, especially when it coincides with La Niña events.

The eastern tropical Pacific Ocean at present is in a neutral state that is neither El Niño nor La Niña conditions, he said.

Written by Christina S. Johnson

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