Drought-stricken California’s prospects improve for a wet winter

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California’s great expectations of relief from a devastating drought became rose Thursday, as forecasters said an El Nino weather system building in the Pacific Ocean would bring winter rains even more widespread than previously hoped.

“A strong El Nino is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre.

The agency issued its winter forecast Thursday.

This year’s El Nino, a weather system that changes wind patterns to move the Pacific jet stream northward, is now nearly a sure thing, and could be one of the strongest on record, NOAA said.

The movement will affect weather across the continental United States, bringing unusually heavy winter rain to much of the southern United States.

Forecasters now predict moisture-laden storms will reach not only California’s coast, as previously predicted, but inland mountain ranges, with the potential to replenish depleted snow reserves that are key to the state’s water supply.

California is in the fourth year of a severe drought, which has parched rural communities and agriculture and cost the state’s economy an estimated 2.74 billion dollars in 2015 alone.

NOAA predicted winter weather would partially mitigate the drought, if not resolve it entirely.

“One season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought,” Halpert said.

While the agency said the revised forecast was good news for California, experts warn that heavy rain could bring new disasters: floods and mudslides on parched, barren hillsides.

An El Nino system in the winter of 1997-98 caused not only record rainfall but thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damages worldwide.

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