A rare third year of La Niña is on deck for California, forecasters say as the state struggles to deal with unprecedented heat and drought.
With the chance of an extra year of below-average precipitation, forecasters are predicting La Niña — also called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — will develop in the coming months and years, potentially raising the risk of devastating wildfires.
“There is a growing consensus that we are due for a very late La Niña event by the end of 2017,” said Jeff Masters, deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources. “There’s a general consensus that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is going to be the new normal.”
That’s based on the latest climate model runs, Masters said, and it’s a warning for officials who hope the weather patterns they’re trying to protect and build resilience against will hold up.
“We’re just in the middle of a very dry time, and every year we’re being told we’re due for La Niña,” Masters said. “And every year, it’s delayed. Year after year, it’s delayed.”
The California Climate Center, which monitors and predicts climate patterns across California, said the “most recent” climate model runs predict the state’s dry period will lengthen in 2017 and into 2018. That’s because, if winter 2017-18 doesn’t follow the normal pattern, La Niña would be pushed into its third year.
“The early 2016 La Niña event had its best period in February of 2017,” Masters said. “But this year we’re seeing the biggest La Niña build-up since 1997.”
In the past, the California Climate Center said a third year of La Niña was never likely. But climate models project the third year of a cool, wet La Niña into late 2018.