No rain relief in sight

No rain relief in sight

9 November 2007

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USA — No relief is in sight for bone-dry Southern California.

For months, the trade winds have been blowing east across the Pacific,churning the ocean and bringing cold, deep water to the surface – the hallmarkof a La Nina event.

With La Nina will likely come another mild winter, meteorologists say,without the rainfall needed to refill depleted reservoirs and dampen fire-pronewilderness areas.

“Because most of our rainfall occurs in December, January and February,this is definitely going to impact us,” said Bill Patzert, a JPLmeteorologist. “It’s not a good forecast.”

In Pasadena, Patzert said, four out of every five La Nina events bringunusually low rainfall totals. The dry conditions are expected to stretch acrossthe entire southern United States.

“There is an extreme drought in the southwest, but we have anexceptional drought in the southeast, so this is definitely not good news forthem,” Patzert said.

La Ni as, the near opposite of El Nino events, occur every three to six years,said Gerry Bell, a climate forecaster for the National Weather Service.

“La Ni a keeps the jet stream further north, up toward Oregon,Washington and Canada.

Bell said. “The jet stream dips southward much less, and so therefore youdon’t get as many storms” over Southern California.

The Pacific Northwest, by contrast, will likely have a wetter-than-normalwinter.

La Ni as typically peak in winter and last between 12 and 18 months, Bellsaid, though because this one is still strengthening, meteorologists do not knowhow long it will endure. Some climate models have suggested it will remain amoderate event, others that it will become even stronger.

Either way, the news does not bode well for firefighters.

In the Angeles National Forest, the fire danger rating “remains atextreme, which is level five (of six), indicating there is a likelihood ofcatastrophic fires,” said Stanton Florea, the forest’s fire informationofficer. “There’s going to be extreme fire danger until we get significantrainfall.”

In fact, Florea said, at a meeting of officials from Southern Californianational forests, “everybody agreed that the fuel moisture level isconsistent with critical level six,” but the danger rating was loweredbecause of improved weather conditions and fire crew availability.

The Angeles National Forest reopened at midnight today, two weeks aftertinder-dry vegetation and gusting Santa Ana winds forced a temporary emergencyclosure.

There could be some cause for optimism, though, for those who believe inmythology. Legend holds that oak trees become laden with acorns before a winterof heavy rain, Patzert said.

“I’ve had a huge fall of acorns, it was like being in a hail storm someevenings, so many acorns,” he said.

“If you have to put some money on it, go with the science,” Patzertsaid, “but I’ve kind of got my fingers crossed the acorns are right.”

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