Environment & Science

True to its name, El Niño effect comes in time for Christmas

SoCal can expect a cold and went Christmas.
SoCal can expect a cold and went Christmas.
JACOB AVANZATO/Flickr/Creative Commons

Living up to its name, El Niño will be bringing cold, wet weather to Southern California — just in time for Christmas.

Much of the region can expect some showers on Thursday and Christmas Day, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologist Brett Albright — a wise man on the subject — said El Niño is the star:

"The important thing to keep in mind is that really all the storms that we're gonna see this winter have at least some small influence from El Niño,” Albright said. “It's a global phenomenon really. So it acts on a very large scale."

El Niño got its name from Peruvian sailors, who were the first to notice unusually warm water that arrived at year's end, around Christmastime. El Niño is Spanish for "the boy child," a reference to the baby Jesus. A mention of the name reportedly was found as far back as 1892.

Shamans near Lima, Peru, hold up a statue of the baby Jesus, or
Shamans near Lima, Peru, hold up a statue of the baby Jesus, or "El Niño" in Spanish, as they play drums and maracas during a ritual in October 2015 that asks for protection from the natural phenomenon known as El Nino.
Martin Mejia/AP

Interstate 5 over the Grapevine could see about an inch of snow while resort areas could get up to 2 inches, according to the weather service.

"The combination of gusty winds, wet roads and holiday traffic will lead to hazardous driving conditions Thursday night into Friday," the weather service said in a statement. "Poor visibility in snow and blowing snow, along with snow-covered roads, are possible above 3,000 feet, along with north-facing mountain slopes."

The El Niño-driven rains this week have also prompted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to extend a warning about possible dangers from swimming in the ocean near storm drains and other outlets, where bacteria and pollutants from runoff could rise to unsafe levels. The warning had been expected to expire on Tuesday, but it will now stay in effect until at least 6 p.m. Friday.

"More-severe storm events have the potential for disturbing the surface of the ground, causing mudflows ... carrying with it contamination both bacterial and chemical," said Angelo Belomo, the agency's deputy director for health protection. "In order to get sick you have to absorb the contamination in a sufficient quantity, but our advice to beachgoers is to make sure that they're not swimming in an area that is in close proximity to these discharging stormwater pipes."

A coastal advisory is also in effect for beaches in the Southland, so look out for high tides and strong rip currents.

After the precipitation moves through, the weekend will be windy, with drier conditions taking over.

"We actually have a pretty good Santa Ana on Saturday,” said meteorologist Andrew Rorke.

Meanwhile, the string of storms that’s been hitting Northern California has produced above-average snowfall in stretches of the Sierras that are key to the state’s water supply. The central Sierra went from a 90-percent-of-average snowpack to over 120 percent. The California Department of Water Resources also reported that the Northern Sierra snowpack has reached above-average levels. 

Closer to home, snow accumulation in the Southern Sierra is at about 85 percent of average, a big change from last year at this time when the snowpack was about half of average.

This story has been updated.