WASHINGTON (KTVU and wires) — Federal meteorologists say the current El Nino is already the second strongest on record for this time of year and could be one of the most potent weather changers of the past 65 years.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration recorded unusual warmth in the Pacific Ocean in the last three months. El Nino (ehl NEEN'-yoh) is a heating of the equatorial Pacific that changes weather worldwide, mostly affecting the United States in winter.
NOAA's Mike Halpert said Thursday the current El Nino likely will rival past super El Ninos in 1997-1998, 1982-83 and 1972-73.
“We’re predicting that this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950,” Halpert said during a press teleconference.
El Nino usually brings heavy winter rain in California, and much of the southern and eastern U.S. Halpert said that's no guarantee and even past super El Ninos haven't delivered the rain that California now needs.
The weather pattern is a cyclical climate phenomenon rooted in the tropical Pacific that features a buildup of warmer-than-normal waters in the central and eastern portions of the region.
Over the last few months, those waters have been steadily heating up. In July, temperatures in a key region were more than 2°F above average, a departure that comes in second only to the blockbuster El Niño of 1997-1998, the event by which all other El Niños are judged.
At the same time, KTVU meteorologist Steve Paulson said the waters off Monterey have hit histotric highs.
A recent 69 degree reading was the highest at the Monterey Bay buoy since they have started keeping records.
South winds from a spinning low pressure system off the coast are responsible for the higher temperatures.
The warm water has brought large schools of sardines and anchovies to the waters and has attracted a large number of whales.