American climatologists predict a "Godzilla-sized El Niño" event will bring downpours that will soak drought-hit California this autumn. The upcoming weather event could be one of the strongest seen, since record-keeping into the rogue weather systems began in 1950.
"Godzilla-sized El Niño" was a joke made by Nasa climatologist Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. Current temperatures in the region are warmer than they were in August of 1997 when the strongest El Niño on record occurred, which caused devastating flooding and mudslides across California.
In 1998 storms caused by an El Niño in California caused flooding and mudslides that killed 17 people and caused more than $500m in property damage.
So far this year's El Niño appears to be stronger than the last giant in 1997, Patzert said. "If this lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayhem."
An National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) blog described the recent atmospheric episode as "the Bruce Lee of Niños", but Patzert contests that Godzilla was a better comparison because it had the power to trigger mudslides and devastation.
Halpert warned that higher than normal levels of rain and snow would hit the southern US, between Florida and central California, and the east coast as far north as New England. But the northern Rockies, Great Lakes, Hawaii and western Alaska will be drier and warmer than normal.
ABC News reported that even if California does receive above-average rainfall this winter, it is will be insufficient to break California's four-year drought. The NOAA says that the western US needs 2-3 years of increased rainfall to fill up all of the reservoirs, lakes and rivers, but this was unlikely to happen.
Panama canal dried out
While El Niño effects subdue hurricanes in the Atlantic zone, it triggers more storms in the Pacific. Tropical cyclone activity in the area has been far higher this year, Halpert said.
The last El Niño five years ago caused monsoons in southeast Asia and droughts in southern Australia, the Philippines and Ecuador, blizzards in the US, heatwaves in Brazil, and killer floods to Mexico.
The Godzilla El Niño is already being blamed for droughts in the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, and shifts in a northward subtropical jet stream that normally carries rain over southern Mexico and Central America. The lack of rain the area has substantially lowed water levels, which has caused the Panama Canal to limit sea traffic between the Atlantic and the Pacific.