SAN FRANCISCO, California — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has published an image comparing the Pacific Ocean’s sea surface temperatures from November 1997 and July 2015, offering a glimpse of a strong El Niño that may batter California with heavy rain this winter.
The image, taken from the agency’s NOAA View Data Exploration Tool on their website, shows unusually warm ocean temperatures stretching from Alaska down to Peru. The large volume of warm ocean water along the Pacific coast appears to surpass the size and strength of 1997’s record-breaking system.
“The 1997-1998 El Niño was distinguished by record-breaking warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the equatorial east-central Pacific Ocean. So far in 2015, increasing equatorial warmth is developing alongside a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, characterized by persistently higher sea surface temperature anomalies of the northeastern Pacific,” the NOAA writes.
These new images add to mounting evidence suggesting that a powerful El Niño, which began forming last winter, may soon bring above-average rainfall for California and ease the state’s four year drought.
“We’re predicting a strong El Niño,” said Maureen O’Leary, National Weather Service spokesperson.
The variations in sea surface conditions are also being blamed for the strange weather over the Bay Area, including last weekend’s hot and muggy climate, and unusual animal behavior such as the growing number of shark and mountain lion sightings.
While the state is in need of moisture, too much weather could lead to rain-related destruction.
On Friday, heavy rains pounded the bone-dry Southern California region, washing out an elevated section of Interstate 10 near Desert Center, one of the major highways connecting California and Arizona.
The Pacific Coast is also expected to see more hurricanes and typhoons this season. So far in 2015, there have been four hurricanes compared to just two by this time last year.