Waiting for El Niño? No, the PDO

“I think you should stop writing about the weather,” my in-house editor said recently. I know he’s right but I can’t help myself. As someone on KPCC, our local public radio station, remarked the other day, “Californians talk a lot about the weather.”

Back before everyone became consumed with the drought and the hoped-for coming rains of winter, morning walkers would frequently greet one another with, “Another beautiful day in Paradise.”To which, even if you felt their remark might be tempting fate, the only polite reply would be, “Mmm, yes.”

But now there’s a new weather change on the horizon and it involves something with the unwieldy name of Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO. According to a report by Southern California Public Radio’s Sanden Totten, new forecasts on the El Niño climate pattern indicate “it could be one of the strongest on record. And… it could deliver much needed rain to Southern California and possibly northern parts of the state, too.”But,” he notes, “El Niños are usually fleeting, lasting only a year or two.”

In contrast, he says, “Evidence is building that a longer-term climate pattern — one that might bring years of rainy winters – could be forming in the Pacific well north of the equatorial waters that give rise to El Niño.”

Nathan Mantua of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains that “the PDO has a warm phase and a cool phase, and each can last anywhere from a few years to decades.” He says “the PDO has been mostly in a cool phase since 1998, coinciding with some of California’s driest years on record.”

PDOTotten talked also to Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory “who thinks it’s this PDO pattern that is responsible in large part for the severe drought in the region. However, since January 2014, the PDO has been shifting into a warm mode. .and could be the drought-buster the state has been hoping for. Perhaps in the long term, rooting for a (warm) PDO…is probably the most important thing for California and the American West,” he said.

And then what will Californians talk about?

Graphic: JPL/NASA