MALIBU (CBSLA.com) — There is growing evidence that California could soon see one of the strongest El Niño events ever this winter, one that could put a dent in the state’s historic drought.
New satellite images show what could be a historic weather event in full bloom, and scientists are confident what’s emerging in the Pacific could make it one of the strongest to ever hit California with a 90 percent chance of lasting through winter.
“That’ll at least, atmospherically speaking, load the dice, so that we could see an average to above average rainfall season across California,” said Tom Di Liberto with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Conditions are lining up in ways not seen since the winter of 1997, when downpours caused rivers and creeks to overflow.
Malibu was one of the hardest hit areas, where a series of mudslides damaged roads with floodwaters ruining homes, businesses and cars.
“It was pretty intense for sure,” said Phil Gottstein, a Malibu resident who remembers that El Niño well.
He worries it could happen again.
“A lot of vegetation that probably hasn’t been saturated in a long time, so yeah, there will definitely be some elements it’s difficult to deal with,” Gottstein said.
But even longtime residents acknowledge relief from the drought cannot come soon enough.
“We, in Malibu will suffer, but look what we get to live in every day,” said Leslee Cook, another resident. “So, maybe if we suffer, but Southern California gets a much-needed water.”
Carl Bendix, another Malibu resident, said: “Well, it’s a combination of concerning and comforting.”
Scientists say if the state receives 150 percent or more above-average rainfall, it’s possible the drought could end in a year.
But they’re also quick to caution: El Niños have fizzled out in the past.
“There’s still a good amount of uncertainty. We’ll have to see how this El Niño continues to develop throughout the rest of the summertime,” Di Liberto said.
California’s rainy season is not expected to start for several months, but as El Niño continues to strengthen, scientists say this year is looking more and more like 1997.