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Science

No Guarantees for California's Weather Outlook

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Nicholas Christen/KQED

December's wet weather may not stick around.

Since the ocean conditions known as El Niño never quite materialized, forecasters are struggling to predict what the rest of the winter will look like in California.
 
Going into Christmas week, San Francisco's seasonal rainfall was nearly ten inches; that's 130 percent of average. Inland areas got extra precipitation, too. Sacramento was at 150 percent, and Sierra ski resorts opened well before Thanksgiving.
 
With such a strong start to this year's water supply it may be hard to imagine another dry year. But the latest outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that January to March could look different.
 
"The most recent forecast looks like a neutral event," said David Unger, a meteorologist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "In a neutral El Niño year, anything can happen."
 
In a typical El Niño year, we might have expected to see the wet weather continue. But that's not what the models are showing. In fact, the exact opposite could happen: a wetter Pacific Northwest, and a drier-than-average Southwest. Northern California, lying right in the middle, could go either way.

Fortunately key reservoirs are already in good shape. Most have above-average levels for this time of year, and the Department of Water Resources has increased its water delivery estimates to 40 percent for the agencies that get their water from the State Water Project.
 
KQED Senior Science Editor Andrea Kissack contributed to this story
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