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October storm encouraging for Central, South Coasts but La Nina could mean drier than normal season

The latest NASA satellite imagery reflecting ocean temperatures.
The latest NASA satellite imagery reflecting ocean temperatures.

Recent storm unsual for this time of year.

First, there was the sounds of fire, as the Alisal Fire burned nearly 17,000 acres of land in Santa Barbara County. Then, we heard the sounds of rain as the Central and South Coasts were hit by an early season storm.

While the rain is badly needed, the region is once again under the influence of a La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which typically means less than average seasonal rainfall.

"La Nina, which is the cooling in the tropical Pacific, has actually arrived, so it's no longer a question," said Dr. Bill Patzert. He's one of the nation’s leading oceanographers, and experts on El Nino and La Nina weather patterns.

"The only question is what impact will La Nina have on this winter's rainfall in California," said Patzert,

Patzert says La Ninas typically mean above average rainfall for the northern part of the country, and below for the southern half.

The longtime NASA climatologist says the storm which hit California wasn’t part of one of those patterns. It was a confluence of elements which came together to create a powerful, one-off storm.

Patzert says it was especially good news for Northern California, because it in effect closed the door to major wildfires for the year.

But, he says while the rain might have helped put a damper on the wildfire threat in our region, we aren’t out of it yet.

Parts of the Central and South Coasts had one to four inches of rain, with a few spots even more. But, as far as the big picture is concerned, Patzert says for us the storm was literally a drop in the proverbial bucket.

"There are many definitions of drought," said Patzert. He talked about Lake Mead, which supplies water to the Colorado River, a key western U.S. water resource. "To refill Lake Mead would take more than one or two above average rainfall years. The fill time on Lake Mead is 17 years."

Patzert says despite some welcome rain this week, we still need to think conservation. The oceanographer says even if we get well above average rainfall this season, it’s not going to get us out of drought.

"It took us a couple of decades to get into this drought," said Patzert. "So, there's no quick fix."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.