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Scientists predict a cold, dry SoCal winter

November 15, 2011
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceanographer and climate forecaster William Patzert predicts a moderate-to-strong La Nina season this winter.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceanographer and climate…

The forecast of a dry winter is doing little to lower the blood pressure of Foothill residents whose homes remain vulnerable to mudslides brought about by the devastating 2009 Station fire.

Caused by cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, La Niña typically causes a colder and drier winter in the Southland. Typically.

Though last season also had La Niña conditions, the rain came down fast and hard, albeit not consistently, said William Patzert, an oceanographer and climate forecaster at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Here in Southern California, after two weeks in December, my forecast was already busted,” said Patzert. “Last winter is an example of where the statistics led us astray.”

According to records kept by Descanso Gardens, just over 32 inches of rain fell on the Foothills between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30 of this year.

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While an average season delivers about 15 inches of rainfall locally, La Niña years generally result in 10-12 inches of the wet stuff. El Niño conditions, caused by warmer than normal sea temperatures, bring an average of 18-20 inches.

Pat Anderson’s home at the top of Ocean View Avenue was heavily damaged in February 2010 when the Mullally debris basin above her property overflowed, sending fast-moving debris and mud through her Paradise Valley neighborhood. Anderson said that with her house still being rebuilt, she has a lot riding on this season’s weather.

“Until my home is finished, even one heavy rainfall could cause heavy damage to my house,” Anderson said. “So, do I get nervous when I hear there’s going to be a significant amount of rain? Yes I do.”

Anderson, president and chief executive of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said she will be watching the forecasts closely.

“I trust my sources, which are the Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Department,” she said, “but I just have to hope for the best, which is not a good position to be in.”

Chris Stone of the L.A. County Flood Control District said that the county will not be altering its preparations for the rainy season based on the La Niña forecast. Stone said the county has made sure the debris basins serving the area are at least 95% clear, and that channels and catch basins are clear and ready to receive any excess rainfall.

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