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Scientists Ask if Winter Warning All Wet

El Nino: Forecasters report that this season's rainfall is above normal but below totals that were registered a year ago.

January 16, 1998|DAWN HOBBS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The latest storm to hit the California coast brought only light rain and fog to Ventura County on Thursday, and some meteorologists are wondering whether this will indeed be the very wet winter that forecasters have been anticipating for months.

Despite predictions of a rainier winter than in past years due to El Nino, the periodic warming of the eastern Pacific, Ventura County has actually had nearly 1 inch less rainfall this season than last year at this time.

Although the rainfall is almost 2 inches above normal, with 7.95 inches recorded for the season at the Ventura County Government Center, it had rained 8.62 inches by this time last year at that location, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In fact, the daily totals for most of California are at or only slightly above normal.

"We had those heavy rains in December, but then it's averaged out with a couple weeks of dry weather," said John Sherwin of WeatherData Inc., a private forecasting firm. "With all the hype about El Nino and how California would get all this heavy rain . . . last year was rainier to date than the current year. . . . It's not what some people have expected."

The weather prediction for the weekend looks good for this time of year: Clouds today will linger until the afternoon, but Saturday should bring sunshine, a few high clouds and temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the low 70s.

Heavy clouds are expected to settle in by midafternoon Sunday, possibly bringing substantial rainfall Monday.

"It's a tough call--there is a storm that could bring decided rainfall amounts on Monday," Sherwin said. "But as far as rain day after day, which we have seen in previous El Nino years, I just don't see that pattern evolving in the next couple of weeks."

Whether that will all change by February is hard to say.

"And anybody that says they do know is lying," Sherwin said. "It's hard enough to forecast five days in advance, let alone a month or season in advance."

One thing is definite--while Thursday's drizzle may have made the hills around town a little greener, it did nothing but annoy many farmers.

"To the vegetable guys, this kind of rain is just a nuisance," said Rex Laird of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

"The vegetable and strawberry growers would just as soon not have the rain we've had because they like to have better control through irrigation," Laird said. "Whereas the citrus growers think it's the greatest thing because they can turn off the pumps and the rain cleans the trees."

Nonetheless, he warned residents not to get too carried away with El Nino predictions.

"So far, this is a fairly normal winter, despite the grandiose announcements of El Nino," Laird said. "We're ahead of normal, but be mindful that we had a similar pattern last year and then Jan. 26, it stopped raining and didn't rain again for 286 days."

Thursday's drizzle caused no electrical outages or weather-related accidents, officials said.

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