(KPIX 5) — Drought-stricken California residents, faced with water cuts and a summer of extreme fire danger, could be seeing some relief by the end of the year, according to a report by climate scientists.

But whether that relief is significant is still literally up in the air.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced there is now a 78 percent chance of El Niño conditions in the Pacific by the end of the year.

El Niño conditions are characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures near the equatorial jet stream which can produce wetter than normal winters in California and the West Coast.

The 78 percent estimation is up from 66 percent in April and 36 percent last November, according to NOAA.

However, meteorologists are not in agreement that such El Niño conditions will result in soaking rains here in the Bay Area.

I’d love to be able to say: El Nino’s coming, the drought’s over,” said Golden Gate Weather Services meteorologist Jan Null.

“There is not a simple answer with El Nino.”

While there is strong evidence that an El Niño is developing – we won’t know for sure until it actually happens.

Even if all the cards look like they’re aligned in your favor, things can still go wrong,” said Daniel Swain meteorologist with the Woods Institute at Stanford University. “There’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a wet winter – in that instance.”

El Niños can be characterized as weak or small, and a small one means weak rainfall, too.

We’ve also had strong El Niños which did not bring heavy rain to California,” said Null.”We had below normal rainfall.”

“Unless we get a really strong El Nino event – It’s not entirely clear what that means for precipitation California.”

Finally it’s apparent that even a wet winter will not erase the ongoing California drought.

“Even if we do get that wet winter, our current precipitation deficits are so large that it would probably take a couple of consecutive wet winters to erase those major rainfall deficits we have here in California,” said Woods.

“We’re just not able to say, categorically – El Niño equals end of drought,” said Null.


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