El Nino watch: Cycle possible next winter

ALTADENA, Calif.

"El Niño in Southern California is what's known as the 'Great Wet Hope,'" said NASA climatologist Bill Patzert.

That's because El Niños typically mean above-average rain for Southern California.

"I'm telling everybody not to get your hopes up. Don't hyperventilate. We're a long way off," said Patzert.

Patzert says NOAA's El Niño watch is really just a coin-flip right now, something NOAA itself acknowledges.

"At this time it's way too early to determine if we're going to have a strong El Niño or a weak to moderate," said Michelle Mead, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "The exact correlation for California is unknown at this time."

But even if an El Niño develops, Patzert says there are no indications whether it will be an especially hearty one.

And because El Niños are usually strongest from December to April, Patzert says don't expect heavy downpours anytime soon.

"We wouldn't see the rains until a year from now. So we're talking rain a year out," said Patzert. "We're not talking relief from the present drought. It's still going to be hot, dry summer."

El Niño could be good for California, but it could be bad for other parts of the world. Scientists say it would mean an even hotter year, and could lead to billions of dollars in losses in crops.

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