Alright, everyone is talking about it, but what is El Niño?
"We've been talking about it in class and different ones think, I guess a big storm is supposed to come and bring a lot of rain," said University of Phoenix student Jasmine Wright.
Let's clear up that common misconception really quick - El Niño isn't like a hurricane, it's not one big system that is going to "hit" us at some point this winter. Rather, as we have seen in past El Niño winters, as cold-core Pacific storms drop down from the Gulf of Alaska, they dip into that warm ocean water and carry it onshore, following the pacific jet stream across Southern California, making for warmer, wetter storms! But if you look at Kern County, we are a little too far north of the direct path of those storms, meaning we could get only about 60% of the increased precipitation. So for now we'll have to wait and see, but we're right on that transition line.
"During an El Niño year, typically Southern California is the most impacted," said Jerald Meadows, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hanford. "We're right on that fringe line in Kern County, and [only] if the jet stream pushes up, [does it] bring that moisture into us. So, that can be our limitation."
"Well it would feel typical! Because every time there's a forecast with rain in it, it either goes north or it goes south," griped long time local resident Owen Kearns. "But I don't know. I'm optimistic! I think something's going to happen."
"Southern California, they need it, we all need it in California," agreed local resident Leslie Needham, "But this is where our food grows, in the valley. So I think we definitely need the water here more than in Southern California because this is where our food is."
Beside the storm track, another limitation is our infamous valley rainshadow.
"The way the mountains work, they kind of block the rain, so rain falls on the wet side of the mountains, not the dry side," Meadows explained. "So down here in the valley, we get that limitation that we've got the mountains in our way, but there'll still be enough moisture to get some precipitation this winter."
So before you get too bummed, keep in mind that of the six strong El Niño events we have on record since 1950, NWS Hanford says in four of those six years Central California actually did receive above average precipitation. The seasons of 1982-1983 & 1997-1998 were the strongest El Niño seasons in the last 65 years, and in those winters, Bakersfield ranked as two of the top three wettest years on record.
"Well for Kern County, it typically means above average precipitation during the winter months, which we typically peak around January-February time frame," Meadows said. "There's not specifically a range that can be expected with the additional rainfall, though we would likely still see at least normal if not above. We could see up into the 10 inches possibly."
So if you look at California's drought the last four years, it still sits at exceptional, the highest and worst level. Bakersfield has only received about two-thirds of our average rainfall the last several years. In fact, in the last 12 months, Bakersfield is more than an inch below our average of 6.47 inches.
So let's say this does shape up to be a strong El Niño year, and we do get above average rain in Kern County, what does that mean for the local drought?
"Well it's going to set us on the right course," Meadows said. "It's not going to bring us out of the drought because we're in such a deficit with the four year drought, but it will bring us to normal for a short period of time."
So to sum it up, what you need to know about El Niño is that we have a good chance to get above average precipitation in early 2016. But be careful what you wish for: too much rain at once could lead to flooding. So stay tuned to 23ABC in the coming winter months for a look at your local weather and what's happening in your neighborhood.