El Nino is Returning this Winter – Here’s What that Means for Northern California

El Nino typically occurs every 3-5 years when ocean water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean become warmer than normal, creating abnormal weather patterns across North America. Well, buckle up, because experts think it’s coming back this year.




Weather officials have forecasted that there’s a significant chance of El Nino weather patterns returning for the winter of 2018/2019. By November, there’s a 50 percent chance of El Nino hitting and that number increases to 70 percent by mid-winter.

El Nino does not guarantee any specific weather pattern throughout the winter in Northern California. It’s not a single storm, but rather a long lasting weather phenomenon that lasts 9-12 months. In 2015, California continued its devastating drought as El Nino brought giant snowstorms to the northeastern states.




Simply put, El Nino creates extreme weather behaviors across the world and Northern California is no different. In 1997/1998, El Nino brought massive precipitation to Northern California, creating large accumulations of snow in the mountains and $550 million in rain and flood damages in California.

Each El Niño differs in intensity and duration, so no two El Niño events are the same. But with Norther California’s location along the equator and proximity to the jet stream, it’s in an abnormally fluctuating area. During an El Niño winter, the Pacific jet stream can stay in the lower half of the country, allowing for wetter than usual weather in cities like Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the northern cities like Portland and Seattle see less precipitation. With Northern California sitting between the two, it’s difficult to forecast which extreme we’ll receive.

So, needless to say, we still don’t know what will happen in the upcoming winter, but with continued drought conditions and the massive wildfires plaguing Northern California this year, extreme precipitation would bring problems like flooding and mudslides. A drawn-out winter of slow and steady rain would be good for the dry areas, but extreme weather behaviors that are typical of El Nino could be devastating.

Extreme precipitation of the 2017 winter brought massive flooding in Norther California, including the overflow of Oroville Dam and the subsequent collapse of its spillway. The incident cause thousands of residents to evacuate the area and repairs of the dam have now exceeded $1 billion. With the hefty price of fires in California, more extreme weather incidents could have a significant financial effect on the state’s budget.




The Farmer’s Almanac released their upcoming winter prediction and it brings news of a cold, wet winter in Northern California. Of course, their models aren’t precise, but they are the oldest weather predictor in the country.

For now, we just have to wait and see. But it’s important to be prepared for extreme weather this winter, especially in areas affected by fire. Let’s hope that El Nino brings some good news for the winter.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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