By DAVID DOWNEY / STAFF WRITER
A rainy season that began with much El Niño-fueled promise is speeding to a dry and disappointing end. And now the blame game is beginning as weather experts try to figure out what went wrong — at least in Southern California.
This week, the National Weather Service posted a 17-minute video addressing the question of why the mysterious climate phenomenon marked by unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean didn't deliver drenching rain to the region, as expected.
Alex Tardy, a warning coordination meteorologist for the Weather Service in San Diego who narrated the video, said it would be a mistake to point the finger at the climate condition itself.
"We can't blame it on El Niño directly because El Niño was there, and it was massive," Tardy said. "In fact, it set (ocean temperature) records."
In that sense, the weather condition that was enthusiastically declared a "Godzilla" or "monster" El Niño at the outset lived up to expectations.
The large pool of water in the equatorial Pacific was a record 5.5 degrees above average one week during the winter, Tardy said. And for a three-month period, the ocean surface in the tropics was as warm as it was during the folkloric winter of 1997-98 that turned out to be one of the wettest on record.
Bill Patzert, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said El Niño did not fail.
No, it didn't rain much — here. But Patzert noted it rained and snowed a lot to the north, enough to nearly fill the state's crucial drinking-water reservoirs.
And the phenomenon messed with weather all over the globe. Those torrential rains in Houston this week? El Niño, he said, deserves credit for those — or blame, as the case may be.
"Don't think that this was not Godzilla El Niño because it didn't deliver in Southern California," Patzert said. "That means you're taking El Niño too personally. You've got to look at the big picture.
"Just because it was a gecko in Riverside doesn't mean it wasn't a Godzilla elsewhere," he said.
But it has been a wimpy rainy season locally, and weather experts have been struggling to explain why. According to the National Weather Service presentation, the answer may be up in the air.
"We've got to look more at the atmosphere if we're going to blame anything," Tardy said.During the last two big El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98, sweeping jet streams stretching from west to east across the Pacific drove storms straight into Southern California.
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