We've all heard the hype about the impending El Niño—it's "too big to fail", County officials are taking action, venomous sea snakes are washing ashore—but now it seems like at least some of that buildup was justified.
According to recent data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are the highest they have ever been—even warmer than during the storm in 1997-98 that caused billions of dollars worth of damage in Southern California.
El Niño occurs when water off the coast of Peru and Ecuador is warmer than usual, creating abnormal weather patterns in Southern California and around the globe. The effects usually kick in around mid-December and peak in January or February.
The water temperature in the central Pacific is a key indicator for how strong El Niño will be. During the 1997-98 storm, the water temperature peaked at 2.8 degrees Celsius above average. This year the water temperature hit the same level above average on November 4 and peaked at 3.1 degrees above average on November 18.
But before you book your flights out of town, keep in mind that the water temperature is only one indicator of how strong the storm will be. And, well, weather people (and media folk) are no strangers to false hype. On team Everybody Calm Down, Mike Halpert from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center told Popular Science that just one indicator isn't a sure predictor. Even if the water temperature is exactly the same as it was during that of a dangerous year, he said, "that doesn’t mean the impacts will be."
Still, just to be safe, we'll probably look into checking off our bucket list of things to do before the storm hits while we still can.