El Niño could mean drought relief in California

However, climatologists caution against a perfect solution to the long drought.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting that this El Niño could be among the strongest in the historical record dating from 1950 and that means rain — lots of it — for California.

El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean continue to gain momentum with rising temperatures, which historically should translate to desperately needed wet winter weather on the West Coast. However, climatologists caution against a perfect solution to the long drought.

"It's very unlikely that things will develop exactly as we're hoping for," Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, told the San Jose Mercury News. "In some areas the drought might be over, and in some areas it might be worse than others."

It could be worse because big storms might bring a deluge to southern California, but miss northern California, which is enduring drought conditions that are more extreme. Many of the state's most important reservoirs are in the north, from Shasta to Oroville to Folsom.

"If we get a lot of rain, but it doesn't get north of Interstate 80, it won't put as big a dent in the drought," said Jan Null, a Saratoga meteorologist.

In a report by the New York Times, Daniel Swain, a doctoral candidate at Stanford who runs the respected California Weather Blog, said the current El Niño, along with unusual warming in the northern Pacific, will produce what is “very likely to be the warmest year on record.”

The surface temperature of Pacific Ocean waters along the equator off Peru is now 3.42 F warmer than the historical average, the highest reading ever recorded in early August.