The National Weather Service is forecasting the formation of an El Niño weather pattern this winter. Thus, the winter precipitation should be more than last year, according to Alex Tardy, meteorologist at the NWS San Diego office.
But that is likely to be “slightly more than normal,” he said and then added, “Closer to average.” And some may come as soon as later this month.
While that does not seem significant, the 2017-18 water year was the driest on record in Southern California. In San Diego, it was the second-driest year on record. And in the Southern California mountains, even snowfall was very low.
In Idyllwild, NWS recorded 3 inches when the average is 47 and near Keen Camp, 13 inches were recorded when the average is 23. In 2015-16, 36 inches of snow fell in Idyllwild and in 2016-17, nearly 45 inches were recorded. Returning to the average would be very beneficial for plant life and fuel moisture on the Hill.
Despite a dry year, Tardy said, “The water supply across the state is in pretty good shape. Most reservoirs are near normal levels.”
Aggravating the dryness were record-high temperatures. During the June to August period, temperatures were the warmest ever, according to Tardy. The average temperature in Palm Springs this year has been 80.3 degrees, which is nearly 2.5 degrees higher than the previous high average, which was last year.
High temperatures and little precipitation have resulted in an expansion of the drought areas. Idyllwild and the San Jacinto Mountains are now within the classification of severe drought (D2) and fuel conditions are very dry.
If a wetter winter develops, that will help mitigate the effects of the drought spreading. The NWS said, “The official forecast favors the formation of a weak El Niño.” The probability of an El Niño pattern forming is currently 80 percent for this winter, with a 55 to 60 percent chance it will continue in the spring of 2019, according to the Nov. 8 NWS report.
Although extensive precipitation is not expected, Tardy did emphasize that based on recent years, any rain or snow event may be heavier than normal, though less frequent overall.