Most people have heard of El Niño. And if you enjoy surfing, wild rain storms, or just a good weather buzz, then the mere mention of “the little boy” cannot help but cheer you up. Ask any longtime South Coast surfer about his or her favorite seasonal wave harvest from the past few decades and chances are you will hear all about the famous El Niño winter of 1982/83, and more recently 1997/98. So, when the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a statement last month that “typical El Niño effects are likely to develop over North America during the upcoming winter season,” surfers all over the 805 — and the rest of California, for that matter — started salivating, sleeping in their wetsuits, and daydreaming about weeklong overhead west swells and months of soggy surf-stoked sinuses.
But before you quit your job and go feral at your local point break, there are a few things to take into account. First, the NWS is “forecasting” an El Niño trend and, like all weather forecasts, there is a good chance it is not entirely accurate. Second, although the data currently coming from the Pacific’s equatorial waters show distinct evidence of an El Niño trend, it is one that is markedly weaker than 1997/98 — the year people got stand-up barrels off Leadbetter Beach.
El Niño is a term used to describe the disruption of ocean atmospheres and the weather patterns that result from higher than normal ocean surface temps near the equator. Right now, temperatures are running almost two degrees higher than normal — a far cry from the 4.5 degree deviation that happened in 1997. Still, when rainstorms rolled into S.B. in early October and northwest swells started swirling near the Bering Strait around the same time — a good month earlier than one usually sees these trends — the buzz on the beach was El Niño’s on its way.
The NWS is slated to release an El Niño update later this week but judging by the continued run of early-season northwest activity and a jet stream riding a definite lower line of latitude, it seems that “the little boy” might just be on his way back.
— Ethan Stewart