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Another hot and dry winter for LA?

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An El Niño may be developing, but it’s not likely to soak Southern California

Los Angeles skyline
A forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts drought conditions will persist in Southern California.

Los Angeles is in for another hot winter, with little chance for relief from drought conditions that now exist throughout California, according to a new forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s in spite of a probable El Niño event, which could bring above-average rainfall to the southwestern United States. The NOAA estimates that there’s a 70 to 75 percent chance that an El Niño develops in late fall or early winter, but it’s likely to be a weak El Niño, meaning that it’s less likely to bring higher than average rainfall to Southern California.

Two winters ago, even a strong El Niño, which many meteorologists predicted would cause torrential downpours and flooding in Southern California, failed to bring even above-average rainfall to the region.

“California’s tricky,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told reporters Thursday. “Even [in 2016] when folks thought the stronger El Nino would tip the odds pretty strongly towards wet, that didn’t really pan out.”

This year NOAA climatologists are hedging their bets, predicting neither a wetter-than-average nor a drier-than-average winter for most of California.

Halpert says the agency is more confident that temperatures will be hotter than normal. In fact, warmer temperatures are in the forecast for every state west of the Mississippi.

According to a temperature outlook from the National Weather Service, there’s a 76 percent chance that temperatures near Downtown LA will be near or above average this winter, and only a 24 percent chance that they will be below average.

Warmer weather certainly won’t ease drought conditions in the region. California relies on snow from the Sierra Nevada mountain range for much of its water supply, and if temperatures aren’t cold enough, some of the precipitation the mountains do get this winter could fall as rain.

Thanks to a wet 2017, current drought conditions aren’t nearly as bleak as they were two years ago, but a dry winter could exacerbate the issue considerably.

Halpert says that a key factor in the wetness or dryness of California’s winter will be the number of atmospheric rivers, or streams of water vapor, that develop above the state during the season.

“Six to eight is kind of the ‘holy grail,’ says Halpert. “At this point we don’t really have the ability to predict those.”