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El Niño Could Mess With LA's May Gray and June Gloom

The warmer ocean could mean less of a marine layer before summer heats up

Those Southern Californians eagerly awaiting May Gray after the record-breaking hot spell earlier this month might not want to get their hopes up. This year's May Gray and June Gloom periods might be weaker and/or shorter, and it's pretty much all El Niño's fault, the Press-Enterprise reports.

JPL climate scientist Bill Patzert says that El Niño—which has already failed to create much of a wet winter in SoCal—will be responsible for a lack of gloominess, as the warming it causes over the ocean is affecting the conditions that are conducive to cloudy, cool weeks leading up to the summer. (First no real rain for SoCal, now the marine layer's disappearing? El Niño, you are the worst.)

This disruption means that the month-long stretches of gray days that Angelenos have come to expect at this time of year are likely in jeopardy. A Riverside-based US Forest Service meteorologist agrees, telling the PE, "We’re definitely going to see less marine layer coverage in the next couple months."

May Gray and June Gloom depend on the presence of cold water in the Pacific, but El Niño famously warms that water up. Right now, "The El Niño-warmed ocean surface is running 62 to 64 degrees. And the normal this time of year is 60 degrees." That small difference is enough to mean big changes in the weather.

The marine layer gets stronger or weaker according to "the sharp contrast between the cool ocean and rapidly warming land," so if the ocean is a bit warmer, the contrast isn't that strong, and neither is the gloom. "If those abnormally warm waters would continue, that would put a damper on the June gloom," a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Diego tells the PE.

That's not just a bummer for those of us hoping to enjoy a brief period of sweater weather before things heat up for the summer. A less than robust period of gloomy days means less moisture for plants and vegetation in the mountains and hills to soak up, and that could mean that fire season could get an early start.