An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dry Western U.S. May Not Get Help From El Niño, Forecasters Say

The chances that an El Niño weather pattern will bring much-needed rains to parched areas of the West have fallen from 80 percent to 65 percent, according to a new analysis by weather experts. They add that if the warm-water system does appear, it would likely be a weak one.

Some Californians had been hoping that El Niño would break the state out of a three-year drought. But as member station KQED reports, government climatologist Bill Patzert says of the prospect of a strong El Niño this fall and winter, "It's a flop."

He added, "That El Niño that was really coming on like gangbusters in the spring has virtually disappeared at this point. Unless we see a miraculous resurgence, any hope for an El Niño soaking this winter is pretty much in the rearview mirror."

On the positive side, forecasters see even less of a chance that El Niño's opposite number — La Niña, which would bring more dryness — will form. And the West Coast could also get some help from Pacific storms, they say, if a high-pressure system stays out of the way.

"We could have one wet, cold storm after another making its way down the length of California," Patzert says, "and that would certainly be sweet."

From a statement issued Thursday by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center:

"A strong El Niño is not favored in any of the ensemble averages, and slightly more models call for a weak event rather than a moderate event. At this time, the consensus of forecasters expects El Niño to emerge during August-October and to peak at weak strength during the late fall and early winter (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 0.5°C and 0.9°C). The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome)."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.