Winter outlook spells trouble for dry California

A warm, dry winter is forecast for much of California as La Niña conditions are expected to persist at least through January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency’s U.S. winter outlook, released this week, spells drought-hit problems as it enters what is usually its wettest season, when rainfall and snowpack in the Sierra help replenish the water supply that carries it throughout the year.

“We are entering the third year of this extreme drought for much of the western United States, with the extreme drought currently concentrating over much of California, the Great Basin and extending northward in parts of Oregon,” Brad Pugh, operational drought manager with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during a press briefing. “In terms of impacts, it negatively affects agriculture, also increases the danger of wildfires and even has impacts on tourism.”

The country’s greatest chances for drier-than-average conditions are predicted for southern California and the Southwest, as well as the southern Rockies, southern Plains, Gulf Coast and much of the South East. About 59% of the country is currently experiencing some degree of drought, officials said.

The forecast comes after a summer of extreme heat and drought. More than 6,800 wildfires have burned in California this year, destroying nearly 800 structures and killing nine, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In September, the state also experienced a scorching 10-day heat wave that shattered thousands of temperature records and “certainly upped the drought categories” in the Pacific Northwest, said Jon Gottschalck, chief from the operational forecasting branch of the climate centre.

But while more drought is predicted for Southern California, the outlook is less certain for what lies ahead for the northern part of the state. Forecasts show equal chances of above or below average precipitation across the region.

Drier than average conditions are forecast for parts of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, the southern Plains, the Gulf Coast and much of the Southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


What’s less mysterious is that the state urgently needs moisture: More than 90% of California is experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, the three worst categories according to the US Drought Monitor.

Increasing heat and drought brought on by human-caused climate change are also upsetting California’s longstanding weather patterns, making the timing and availability of water in the state less reliable. State and federal water supplies are facing major shortages and cuts due to the drought, and officials said further cuts are likely if the drought persists into 2023.

The temperature outlook is also concerning for the Golden State, with nearly all of California expected to experience warmer than average conditions. This winter. Southern California will likely experience the hottest temperatures.

Alaska, the Central Great Basin, the Southwest, the Southern Plains, the Southeast United States and the Atlantic Coast are also expected to experience warmer than average conditions, according to forecasts.

Officials said the conditions were driven by a rare third consecutive appearance of La Niña, a climate pattern in the tropical Pacific that tends to split the country in two.

“It should come as no surprise that the winter outlook is consistent with typical La Niña impacts — which include a generally warmer, drier south, and a cooler, wetter north,” Gottschalck said.

Winter 2022-23 will mark the third appearance of a La Niña “triple dip”, officials said, referring to three consecutive La Niña winters. The first took place in the mid-1970s and the second in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A map shows the chances of warmer than average conditions in the Southwest and other parts of the United States

The greatest chance of warmer than average conditions is forecast for western Alaska, the central Great Basin, and the southwest stretching across the Southern Plains, according to the U.S. Winter Outlook 2022-23 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


But while La Niña may offer a glimpse of what’s to come, officials have warned it’s not a guarantee. La Niña of 2021, for example, gave way to a very cold February, including a deadly frost in Texas.

Gottschalck said the signal is most reliable in Southern California and the Southwest, with conditions in the Bay Area and northern part of the state harder to predict due to weather events and potential “sub-seasonal” climatic events – such as atmospheric rivers – that usually appear. over a few weeks as opposed to a long-term pattern.

Last December, for example, very strong atmospheric river events helped improve drought conditions in parts of California, he said. However, the subsequent months of drought and heat quickly erased most of these gains.

“It’s a real challenge,” Gottschalck said. “Certainly, atmospheric river events can occur during these La Niña winters, and I wouldn’t expect anything else. It’s more about how often they happen – when they happen and how cold the situation is in the Pacific Northwest and California – and whether you can build up the snowpack to sufficient levels for it to melt at the over time in the spring to produce general relief from dryness. .”

Los Angeles Times

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