Drought’s grip on Southern California to tighten with La Niña, forecasters say


After five years of withering drought, government forecasters say California is once again headed for a warm and dry winter, especially in Southern California.

The National Weather Service issued its winter outlook Thursday and predicted that La Niña conditions in the Pacific will affect the U.S. in a number of ways.

Specifically, the U.S. will likely experience warmer and drier conditions than normal in the South, and colder and wetter than usual conditions in the far north.


La Niña is a cooling of the central Pacific that warps weather worldwide and is the flip side of the better-known El Niño, according to Mike Halpert, deputy director of the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.

For the South and California, “the big story is likely to be drought,” Halpert said.

Winter is the state’s crucial wet season, when snow and rain gets stored up for the rest of the year. Halpert said the state’s winter looks to come up dry, especially in Southern California.

“It’s probably going to take a couple of wet winters in a row to put a big dent into this drought now,” said weather service drought expert David Miskus. He said it will take “many, many years and it’s got to be above normal precipitation.”

The northern cold band that the weather service predicts is mostly from Montana to Michigan. Maine is the exception, with unusually warm weather expected.

The prediction center’s track record on its winter outlooks is about 25% better than random chance for temperature and slightly less than that for precipitation, Halpert said.

Private weather forecasters are predicting quite a different winter. They foresee a harsher one for much of the nation, including a return of the dreaded polar vortex, which funnels cold Arctic air into the U.S.


Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Mass., forecasts an unusually cold winter for the eastern and middle two-thirds of the nation, and especially raw east of the Mississippi River.

Cohen, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation and closely followed by meteorologists, links North America’s winter weather to Siberian snow cover in October.

He agrees that Maine will have a warm winter, and also predicts a warm Southwest.

The private Accuweather of State College, Pa., calls for frequent storms in the Northeast, early snow in the Great Lakes, bitter cold in the northern tier and occasional cold in the middle.

Like other forecasters, it predicts a warm and dry Southwest, with some hope for rain and snow from San Francisco northward.


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