AccuWeather forecasters say this winter's El Niño could be one of the strongest in the past 50 years, leading to a return of meaningful but not necessarily drought-busting rain in California.
"El Nino has steadily strengthened over the past month and is now approaching strong category strength," states AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson. "Confidence continues to grow that this El Niño will be one of the stronger El Niños over the past 50 years."
The weather phenomenon typically reaches its peak between December and February, says Anderson, who notes the strongest El Niño on record since the beginning of the 20th century occurred during 1997-'98. California saw record rainfall in February 1998, and the Sierra Nevada was slammed with snow.
"A strong El Niño could be good news for the extreme drought in California," according to Anderson. "Unfortunately, a sudden turn to a stormy winter could also result in dangerous mudslides and flash flooding for the state."
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno cautions it will take more than one strong El Niño winter to bust the California drought. "Current rain deficits are way too large," Rayno explained. "Even if California receives the rain that fell in 1997-98, it will not come close to ending the long-term drought."
Meanwhile, AccuWeather forecasters say the warm waters associated with El Niño will keep the eastern Pacific active through hurricane season, with a wetter-than-normal monsoon season expected. But Anderson notes a strong El Niño may lead to a milder winter compared to normal across much of the northern United States and southern Canada, especially in the Northwest.