The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its first winter outlook, predicting a warm, wet winter for California and much of the United States, driven by a strong El Niño event. El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño-La Niña Southern Oscillation pattern and significantly influences global temperature and precipitation patterns.
The NOAA’s winter outlook indicates that warmer-than-average conditions are expected across the northern tier of the U.S. and much of the West, with Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, and northern New England having the highest chance of above-normal temperatures. The outlook also favors wetter-than-average conditions in many regions, including almost all of California, the southern Plains, Texas, and the Southeast.
For California, this forecast brings the possibility of another wet season. However, the combination of wetness and warmth may result in more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. It’s still uncertain whether California will experience the same kind of atmospheric rivers as it did at the beginning of the previous winter.
The NOAA experts acknowledge that while El Niño and La Niña patterns generally influence climate conditions, there is still a lot of variability, and not every event follows the general pattern. The Pacific Ocean’s ENSO cycle can shift patterns and climate conditions, making precise predictions challenging.
This winter forecast comes after an exceptionally hot summer with record-breaking heatwaves, wildfires, and extreme storms. Global average surface temperatures were the highest ever recorded during June, July, August, and September. The extreme heat has raised concerns about climate change’s impacts, including heatwaves, droughts, and sea-level rise.
Although El Niño may play a role in shaping climate patterns, ongoing climate warming driven by the burning of fossil fuels remains a significant factor. The NOAA predicts that 2023 is likely to become the hottest year on record, surpassing previous records set in 2016 and 2020.
The effects of climate change are already evident, leading to extreme weather events, shifts in rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, and other impacts on ecosystems, agriculture, and infrastructure. The increased frequency of billion-dollar climate disasters across the United States highlights the importance of addressing climate change and its consequences.