With all the rain in L.A., it's now official: La Niña is a bust
Let us go easy on beleaguered meteorologists, even as we set umbrellas and rubber boots by the door for another week of weeping gray skies.
Let us not scorn those forecasters who, months ago, so confidently predicted a drier-than-normal Southern California winter.
Instead, let’s calmly note that Sunday’s ferocious storm dumped so much water throughout the region that it shattered records in several communities.
Downtown Los Angeles and many other areas have exceeded rainfall averages for an entire season — and there’s still three months to go.
“La Niña definitely was a bust,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge and one of several meteorologists who predicted last fall that La Niña, a climatological phenomenon marked by cold ocean-surface temperatures, would bring a drier-than-normal rainy season.
The Arctic storm that passed through the region Sunday set daily rainfall records in many communities. In downtown L.A., 2.42 inches had fallen by 8 a.m. Monday, about an inch more than the previous record set in 1943. Camarillo Airport had its wettest calendar day on record for March, with 4.91 inches; and Santa Barbara saw 5.23 inches, an all-time record.
Downtown L.A. has logged about 18.5 inches of precipitation since the rainy season began. That’s more than 3 inches over its average for the whole season, which ends June 30, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
More showers are forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday, though precipitation will be considerably lighter than Sunday’s deluge, Seto said. Saturday should be partly cloudy, with afternoon clearing.
On Sunday, hurricane-force wind gusts up to 98 mph roared through mountain passes, while gusts between 50 and 60 mph toppled trees throughout Southern California's urban landscape. Flowing mud swamped a retaining wall in Woodland Hills, forcing the overnight evacuation of 12 homes.
In hard-hit Santa Barbara County, sheriff’s deputies rescued 18 people who had become stranded near Nira Campground as rivers swelled into raging torrents. Twelve children and six adults from Boy Scout troops in Lompoc and Camarillo were flown to Santa Ynez Airport and checked for hypothermia. The campers were cold and hungry but otherwise uninjured, authorities said.
A La Niña condition in the Pacific usually brings heavy rain to places such as Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and Colombia, while bringing unusually dry periods to California and the southern United States.
Texas and other southern states have been relatively dry, Patzert said. But powerful storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska have nullified La Niña’s effect in the Southwest, he said.
In December, the so-called Yukon Express delivered two weeks of heavy rainfall, dumping a record 10 inches of rain in L.A. That was followed by nearly rain-free weather in January and February, a pattern typical of La Niña, Patzert said.
The Arctic storm that passed through this weekend once again overrode La Niña’s potential effect in Southern California, he said.
“La Niña was real,’’ he said, “but she played second fiddle to all of these storms out of the North Pacific.”
La Niña still has managed to wreak havoc on other parts of the planet, including serious flooding in Australia, forecasters said. And if the December rains hadn't happened, California would be recording lower-than-normal precipitation, they said.
Scientists measured oceanic and atmospheric conditions in February and found that La Niña was beginning to weaken, Patzert said. It’s still possible that the rest of the rainy season, after this week, will be dry, he said.
Patzert said he’s not taking any wager on that.
“I am definitely humbled,’’ he said.
-- Catherine Saillant