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El Niño forecast is up in the air for Southern California

El Niño forecast is up in the air for Southern California
An egret searches for food in a nearly dry canal near Red Bluff in Northern California. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

With the summer winding down, weather officials say the winter forecast is wide open.

While a mild-to-moderate El Niño weather pattern is widely expected to develop in the fall, forecast models have "projected many different outcomes," said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"The odds of drier than normal winter are just as high as a wetter than normal winter," he said in a video released Tuesday.

Last month, climatologists downgraded the chance of El Niño forming this fall from 80% to 65%. But the latest three-month outlook for January to March shows a potential for above-normal precipitation in Southwest California, Boldt said.

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Forecasters are in El Niño watch mode, noting that sea temperatures along the equatorial Pacific have warmed, a possible signal that the storm-producing weather system is strengthening, Boldt said.

In the last four weeks, sea surface temperatures were also above average along the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

El Niño winters in Southwest California have been historically wet, which would be a welcome reprieve for a region parched by a prolonged drought.

Nearly 60% of the state is experiencing "exceptional" drought conditions, the harshest on a five-level scale as measured by U.S. Drought Monitor.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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