The probability of an El Niño weather pattern this year remains high — 70 percent by later this summer, increasing to nearly 80 percent this fall and winter — but forecasters now believe it’s less likely to be as powerful as what some had previously anticipated.
Forecasters now believe the El Niño patterns will peak at weak-to-moderate strength during the late fall and early winter.
That’s the basic thrust of Thursday’s monthly El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) update, issued jointly by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
The update indicated that while subsurface temperatures remain above average near the surface (down to a depth of 100 meters), the extent of abnormally warm subsurface waters in the equatorial Pacific had actually “decreased substantially” since late March and is now near average.
Should the El Niño ultimately top out as moderate, it would be highly unlikely to have the same kind of catastrophic potential as that of the last really strong El Niño in 1997-98, when California rainstorms led to flooding and mudslides and the U.S. Pacific coastline experienced significant erosion from California to Washington.
That doesn’t mean this part of the state won’t go unaffected, though. Even a moderate El Niño means a warmer, drier summer in Cascade forests.
“The heat forecast for the next week certainly feels El Niño-like,” Dave Peterson, research biologist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, said in an email Thursday morning. “We’re starting to see some fires at lower elevations as vegetation dries out.
“We’ll see what happens in August.”