A rare third year of La Niña is on deck for California, forecasters say. The Pacific Ocean is supposed to usher in a chilly period that may bring some rain and snowfall. But it will be nothing like the last, when record-breaking highs and record-breaking lows shook the West Coast. The weather pattern is one of many factors that could lead to record-breaking heat for California, and a record-breaking drought.
“We really don’t have any idea what the rest of this year will bring for California,” said Greg Pringle, a climate scientist. “We’re moving into a very unusual period in the climate. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
For the third year in a row, La Niña is causing a drop in sea surface temperatures. And this time the ocean is not just causing a cooling effect. It’s also been making an impact on the atmosphere, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
La Niña conditions last year lasted from October through March. Sea surface temperatures were about 25 degrees Fahrenheit lower than normal from December to March.
And that’s nothing compared to the changes expected this year, said NOAA.
The ocean is expected to fall about 8 degrees Fahrenheit from this year to 2016.
The impact is expected to last through the end of the year.
So what does this mean for California?
“This is a rare event,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, deputy director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “It’s not only really odd for California, I think it’s the fourth-most unusual year for the U.S. in terms of having a La Niña.”
Noah Berger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told NBC News that La Niña last year took the California drought in a new direction, and made it far worse.
“The state has seen more rain, but the drought is far more intense, and the state has been in a drought for four-and-a-half years longer… So it’s not over yet.”
An important question to ask is where this drop in sea surface temperatures will lead.
Pringle said that, given the current temperature trend for the Pacific Ocean, it’s unlikely we’ll see the lowest sea surface temperatures in California in this century