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After two big rainfall seasons for the Tri-Counties, a La Nina pattern may mean not so much this year

Climatologists are seeing changes in ocean temperatures which could set the stage for a La Nina impacting the West Coast.
Climatologists are seeing changes in ocean temperatures which could set the stage for a La Nina impacting the West Coast.

Changes in ocean water temperatures indicate a La Nina pattern is forming. La Ninas can mean below average rainfall for our region, and can set the stage for drought conditions.

It seems like just a few weeks ago, we were seeing day after day of rain in the Tri-Counties. The last two years brought big rainfall totals to the region, with water sources like Lake Cachuma full for the first time in years.

But, climatologists say it looks like we aren’t going to be as lucky this upcoming rainfall season.

"Two years of above normal rainfall, with a healthy El Nino last was pretty welcome, because we'd experienced almost two decades of drought," said Dr. Bill Patzert.

He's a researcher, and oceanographer who was at NASA’s JPL for decades, and a has been a part of NASA’s Sea Level Change team.

Patzert is one of the nation’s leading experts on El Ninos and La Ninas. He says the signs show we’re heading towards a La Nina pattern.

"The good old days are gone here. We're back to what I've always called the Diva of Drought," said Patzert.

We’ve had two stellar water years. For the current year, in Ventura County. Oxnard recorded 170% of its average annual rainfall, Camarillo 114% and Thousand Oaks 118%.

Santa Barbara County’s numbers are even more impressive. Santa Barbara has had 180% of its annual average, Santa Ynez 130%, and Santa Maria 124%.

And, here’s a wow number. San Marcos Pass had 57” of rainfall this rainfall year.

Some of the latest readings of ocean water tempertatures show a La Nina pattern is forming.
Some of the latest readings of ocean water tempertatures show a La Nina pattern is forming.

But, Patzert says that won’t be the case this coming season. He says the reality is big chunks of the state are basically deserts without the water, and La Nina could set the stage for below average rainfall.

"The trade winds across the Pacific have dramatically increased. At the equator, ocean temperatures have dropped all the way from the coast of South America into the Central Pacific," said Patzert. "This is an ominous sign of what we're in store for here in California, and the American Southwest."

The researcher says the wildfires we’ve had in the Tri-Counties the last few weeks are just a taste of what could come, as vegetation continues to dry during the summer months.

"The fires raging in Northern California and Southern California are an ominous preview of coming attractions of what we might expect in coming months," said Patzert.

"The benefits of last winter's El Nino, and above average rainfall have a downside. The brush and the grasses really surged. The deeper we get into the summer, the drier that fuel will be," said the oceanographer.

Many researchers say that climate change set the stage for more intense weather: They say one example is the heavy rainfall we had in Oxnard and Port Hueneme last year, which caused flooding. And, we could see more of the flip side, in the form of mega-wildfires.

"We're living in a warmer world," said the researcher. "The last six months have been particularly record-breaking as far as temperature. It's mid-June, and we are already having punishing heat waves."
He said there is evidence that hurricanes are becoming more intense, and that we are seeing more weather related disasters.

Patzert says as for La Nina, it’s still in its early stages. It’s still too early to assess the potential impacts.

"Right now, the La Nina is modest, but strengthening," said Patzert. "It's early on, but indications are as we move into the summer, and fall, we will have a formidable La Nina. And, it will definitely suppress rainfall across Central and Southern California, and the American Southwest."

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.