Though the area is known for relatively calm weather patterns, Santa Monica and the Greater Los Angeles area are susceptible to bouts of abnormality.
This past winter, for example, was an exceptionally wet one for the area. In December 2022, 1.62 inches of rain was recorded at the National Weather Service observation station, located at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. As the calendar flipped to 2023, even more rain came to the area, with 3.42 inches recorded in January, 4.18 inches in February and 7.85 inches in March.
One of the culprits of the wet season is also a key to shaping weather patterns worldwide, an El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). An ENSO is a climate pattern that can create significant differences in average ocean temperatures, dictating global weather patterns. Last winter’s wet period was triggered by an abnormally wet La Niña season, which occurs when ocean temperatures are cooler than the historical average, along with stronger surface winds as an extra threat.
Aside from a “neutral state,” and La Niña, the third ENSO pattern may bring an even bigger threat of hectic weather to Santa Monica in coming months. The El Niño state occurs when sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific rise to above-normal levels for an extended period of time. Earlier this summer, the NWS issued an El Niño advisory, cautioning that a “strong” El Niño is anticipated for the Northern Hemisphere this winter.
The term El Niño, Spanish for “little boy,” was named in reference to Jesus Christ due to the timing of warm ocean waters. The term originated from South America in the 1800s, when warmer waters around the Christmas holiday negatively impacted fish catches.
Expected to peak around December, El Niño influences the southern portion of the United States by allowing storm tracks to shift farther south, bringing cooler and wetter weather. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that the likelihood of a wet winter can shoot up to 90 percent during El Niño in parts of California, Texas, Florida and other southern states.
The threat level is certainly raised for the area, but it is not a guarantee that this winter will live up to last year’s soggy standards. Eric Bildt, a meteorologist with the NWS in Oxnard, told the Los Angeles Times that while the 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, only about 6 inches of rain fell in Southern California cities.
A threat with more likelihood to come to fruition is the damage warmer winter temperatures bring to agriculture. Crops in the area can be affected by El Niño, including those that require colder temperatures during winter dormancy like cherries or pears.