A rare third year of La Niña is on deck for California, forecasters say, and while not as intense as the record-breaking El Niño of 1998-1999, this La Niña winter could still warm the state as much as 2 degrees, which is the most in two decades, according to scientists.
“The best news is that the La Niña event is not nearly as strong as the 1998-1999 El Niño,” said meteorologist Bill Gray, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The latest weather forecast says the cold and wet year ahead could begin in California with the arrival of the jet stream northward around the country in the spring, and in California where some are already seeing a second freeze, from early February to mid-March, even if temperatures don’t drop as much.
Los Angeles’ forecast shows an arctic-like February. It has even been labeled La Niña-free since mid-May in Los Angeles County alone with daytime highs going up to 75 degrees, but daytime low temperatures of 20 degrees.
Last year, California had a total of seven El Niño years.
“If you look at this winter, this is the second-most intense La Niña winter — it is the strongest La Niña winter in that period since 1976-77,” Gray said. “And that means that we are likely to see more rain out in the state so far.”
With no rain in sight, the state is set to head into a frigid wet spring, with temperatures in the mid- to high-40s and a few inches of snow possible through the spring.
As recently as six months ago, scientists were worried about the state’s winter, but the recent La Niña winter is the most intense in the modern record, said Bob Adelman, of the meteorological service for the Bay Area.
He noted that the last major La Niña winter didn’t even occur until 1998-99, the year a record-breaking El Niño.
“The 1998-99 El Niño was the warmest El Niño on record, and they ended up with a very dry winter,” Adelman said. “So the fact that we’re looking at this La Niña winter, which is in some sense colder than 1998-99, but with a dry spring and an active ocean, that sets us up for a very wet summer.”