WASHINGTON — The current El Niño, nicknamed Bruce Lee, is already the second strongest on record for this time of year and could be one of the most potent weather changers of the past 65 years, federal meteorologists say.
But California and other drought-struck areas better not count on El Niño rescuing them like in a Bruce Lee action movie, experts say.
"A big El Niño guarantees nothing," said Mike Halper, deputy director of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. "At this point there's no cause for rejoicing that El Niño is here to save the day."
Every few years, the winds shift and the water in the Pacific Ocean gets warmer than usual. The resulting El Niño changes weather worldwide, mostly affecting the United States in winter.
In addition to California, El Niño often brings heavy winter rain to much of the southern and eastern United States.
It's also likely to make the northern winters warmer and southeastern U.S. winters a bit cooler, but not much, Halpert said. The middle of the United States usually doesn't get too much of an El Niño effect, he said.
California's state climatologist Michael Anderson noted that only half the time when there have been big El Niños has there been meaningfully heavy rains. The state would need 1 ½ times its normal rainfall to get out of this extended drought and that's unlikely, Halpert said Thursday.
Still, this El Niño is shaping up to be up there with the record-setters, because of incredible warmth in the key part of the Pacific in the last three months, Halpert said. He said the current El Niño likely will rival ones in 1997-1998, 1982-83 and 1972-73.
NASA oceanographer Bill Patzert said satellite measurements show this El Niño to be more powerful than 1997-98, which often is thought of as the king. But that one started weaker and finished stronger, he said.
This El Niño is so strong a NOAA blog unofficially named it the "Bruce Lee" of El Niños after the late movie action hero. The California-based Patzert, who points out that mudslides and other mayhem happens, compares it to Godzilla.