Communities across California are bracing for two weeks of heavy rains generated by the El Nino system.
Northern California could receive up to 15in (38.1cm) of rain over the next 16 days, with parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains getting up to 24in of snow.
The El Nino system, a warming trend in the Pacific Ocean, is expected to spur extraordinary weather across the US in the coming weeks and months.
The phenomenon is prompting warnings of flash floods and mud flows.
Light rain began falling across the region on Monday, but stronger storms are expected to hit the area on Tuesday, with at least two more systems expected on Wednesday and Thursday.
Much of the area in the storms path has fallen victim to wildfires in recent years, making the heavy rains more hazardous. After wildfires destroy vegetation, there is an increased risk of landslides and mudslides along sloped areas.
The concerns are shared in southern California, where wet conditions could put communities in the Los Angeles area at risk of flooding and susceptible to debris and mud flows. Between two and three-and-a-half inches of rain are expected through Friday in southern California.
Across the state, officials are issuing warnings for the storms and telling residents to clear gutters and anything that could hinder the flow of storm drains. Efforts are under way to shelter homeless people.
El Nino systems form every two to seven years when the warm waters of the central Pacific ocean expand towards South and North America. The current El Nino is the strongest since 1998 and is expected to be in the top three most powerful episodes ever recorded.
In recent weeks, the system has generated unusual weather across the US with unseasonably high temperatures in the northeast, uncommon winter tornados in the south, and a deluge of snow across the west.
The El Nino system has also generated intense flooding across South America, with Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil experiencing the worst flooding in 50 years, resulting the evacuation of more than 150,000 people.
In many ways the soggy deluge may bring some welcome relief.
California has been struggling with a four-year drought that has forced officials to enact a contentious water-savings plan. Residents have missed savings targets for at least two months in a row.
However, despite the forecast for heavy downpours, experts say the severity of the drought is such that one El Nino system will not be able to overcome it.
Tropical Storm Earl Reaches Hurricane Strength
Tropical Storm Earl has officially reached the level of a category 1 hurricane. The hurricane packing 130 kilometer (80 mile) per hour winds and heavy rain made landfall in Central America near Belize’s capital, where officials warned of likely flooding and damage to homes Thursday.
Earl swept in from the Caribbean at hurricane strength to strike just south of Belize City, population 60,000, around midnight Wednesday (0600 GMT Thursday), according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The storm weakened as it moved inland, and by 1200 GMT the NHC had downgraded it from a hurricane to a tropical storm with 65 mile (105 kilometer) per hour winds.
Belize’s National Emergency Management Organization had warned of a threat of flashfloods and mudslides and flooding in low-lying areas.
Earl was expected to dissipate further as it moves across northern Guatemala and southern Mexico, the NHC said.
The Mexican authorities took no chances, evacuating 300 families living close to a river along the border with Belize in the southeastern state of Quinta Roo for fear of flooding.
More than 750 shelters were readied in the state in preparation for expected high winds and fierce gusts.
Other southern Mexican states likely to be affected were Campeche, Tabasco and Yucatan.
In the northern Guatemala town of Puerto Barrios, a military commander, Colonel Nelson Tun, told AFP that “patrols in vulnerable areas” were being carried out.
“We have identified high areas to where the population can evacuate before possible flooding,” he said.
Guatemala in particular is prone to rainy season flooding and mudslides that often prove fatal.
Guatemala’s population, at 16 million, is much bigger than the 330,000 in Belize, Central America’s only English speaking country.
Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, late Wednesday offered Belize humanitarian aid and shelters along the border if needed.
That gesture was significant after months of tensions between the two countries following a shooting death of a Guatemalan boy by a Belizean border patrol in April.
The fifth named tropical storm of the 2016 season, Earl strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday, according to the NHC. Winds initially measured at 120 kilometers per hour picked up just before landfall.
Category 1, the lowest of five grades on the hurricane scale, is described as having dangerous winds of between 119 and 153 kilometers per hour that can rip off roofs, bring down trees and cause extensive damage to power lines.
Belizean public and private sector workers were permitted to go to their homes Wednesday to secure property.
Officials warned that people living on the ground floor “will experience flooding” and some older wooden buildings would likely be destroyed.
The authorities have opened 29 shelters.
Tropical Storm Colin Barrels Toward Florida; State Guard Activated
TAMPA, Fla. – Tropical Storm Colin unleashed thunderstorms and flooding on Florida on Monday, prompting the governor to activate the national guard as the storm with 50-mph-winds barreled through the Gulf of Mexico toward the state’s northwest coast.
The storm, about 165 miles (265 km) from the Florida coast as of 2 p.m. (1800 GMT), was forecast to dump as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in some parts of the state. The combination of the storm surge and high tides threatened to bring flooding to coastal areas from Florida up through North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
The storm was forecast to make landfall below Florida’s panhandle late on Monday afternoon, on a track that would take it over the state and through southern Georgia and then along the Atlantic Ocean coast over South Carolina and North Carolina, the center said.
Governor Rick Scott said more than 6,000 Florida National Guard members were activated and ready for deployment. He also declared a state of emergency in 34 of the state’s 67 counties.Rip tides, lightning, tornado and hail posed dangers to communities far beyond Colin’s immediate path, Scott said.
“It’s going to impact pretty much our entire state,” Scott told a news conference.
In the St. Petersburg beach town of Gulfport, roads were already flooded. One resident used a kayak to float down a thoroughfare past a waterfront cafe that stayed open, allowing people used to severe weather to witness the storm.
More than 10,000 customers were without power ahead of the storm making landfall, local utilities reported.
“This is a mild tempest,” said Trace Taylor, a local writer lunching on onion rings. “What’s there to be afraid of? It’s just water and it’s not that bad.”
The storm also threatened crops in Florida, the country’s biggest citrus producer, which sent U.S. orange juice futures on Monday to their highest in more than two years.
Concerns about storm surges exacerbated by high tides prompted voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas of Franklin County, Florida, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Tallahassee.
Flooding and isolated tornadoes threatened densely populated communities from south of the Tampa Bay region through Jacksonville on the east coast, according to the National Weather Service.
Waters could rise by 1 to 3 feet (30 cm to 90 cm) along the state’s western coast from the storm surges.
Colin is part of a brisk start to the Atlantic hurricane season that runs through Nov. 30. Over the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Carolinas were lashed by heavy rain and winds from Tropical Storm Bonnie.
Say Goodbye to El Niño, Hello La Niña
The grip of one of the strongest El Niños in recorded history is loosening, and in its place it appears that the cool flipside, La Niña, is arriving, writes Dennis Mersereau for Mental Floss.
Both phenomena are part of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, ENSO, a natural climate variation that swings between warm and rainy conditions (El Niño) in the central-eastern Pacific and cooler, drier conditions (La Niña). The long tongue of slightly-warmer-than-average surface water that makes up El Niño has been weakening and beneath the surface, “a deep pool of cool water has been sliding slowly eastward for the past couple of months,” writes Rebecca Lindsey for Climate.gov, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
If water temperatures persist more than 0.5 degrees Celsius below average, then La Niña has arrived. There’s a 75 percent chance that will happen by this fall, writes Emily Becker for NOAA’s ENSO blog. For now, global weather patterns are still under the sway of El Niño, technically, but the trend is toward more neutral conditions, she explains. If trends continue, El Niño should kick it at the end of the summer.
The water temperatures and pressure anomalies that herald these patterns might center over the central-eastern Pacific, but the effects ripple across the globe, changing precipitation and temperature patterns in many regions. In North America, the winters are usually milder during an El Niño and the West coast, southern U.S. and southeast see more rainy days.
When La Niña arrives, the U.S. Southwest, central and southern Rockies, the Great Plains and Florida usually have drier weather. Winters under La Niña are likely to be colder in the Northwest, northern California, northern Intermountain West and north-central states. However, although experts have noticed those trends, they have trouble predicting exactly how any one El Niño or La Niña will play out.
“[As] still-parched Californians found out this year, each event is different, and not all of them affect the weather as we would expect,” writes Mersereau.
Experts get some idea about how the pattern affects global weather and for how long by looking at past events. Becker writes that there are 14 La Niñas on record:
Of those 14 La Niñas, nine immediately followed El Niño years. Two occurred two years after an El Niño, with a neutral year intervening. Two were the second year of a “double dip” La Niña, where sea surface temperatures briefly returned to neutral during the summer before heading back into La Niña territory (1974/75 and 2011/12). The remaining one starts the records off in 1950.
La Niñas also tend to last longer than El Niños. After the unusually strong 1997/98 El Niño, La Niña lasted for 33 months, spanning three winters.
Still, even with a potential La Niña on the way, 2016 is on track to become the hottest year in recorded history, beating out 2015, Maddie Stone notes for Gizmodo. April 2016 was the 12th consecutive warmest month on record. She explains that even with the powerful influences of oscillating climate anomalies, “humans now control the master switch when it comes to our planet’s thermostat.”
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