Cue the screaming, the pointing, the badly synced exclamation: It's Godzilla!
The National Weather Service on Thursday said a gathering El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean could become one of the most powerful on record, bringing once-in-a-generation storms later this year to drought-stricken California.
Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the system has the possibility of becoming "the Godzilla El Niño." Its ocean signal, he said, is stronger than in 1997, when the most powerful El Niño on record developed.
"Everything now is going to the right way for El Niño," Patzert told the Los Angeles Times. "If this lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayhem."
The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that all computer models are now predicting a strong El Niño, which would peak in late fall or early winter. That could benefit drought-stricken California — but it could also bring unwanted side effects.
After the 1997 El Niño, Southern California got double its typical annual rainfall, with double the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, a key water source.
But it could also bring catastrophe. In 1998, the Times noted, the region saw so much rain so quickly that widespread flooding and mudslides killed 17 people and caused more than half a billion dollars in damage. Downtown Los Angeles got nearly a year's worth of rain in February alone.
Mike Halpert of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center warned that one season of above-normal rain and snow "is very unlikely to erase four years of drought," KTLA reported.
State climatologist Michael Anderson agreed, saying in a statement that California "cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions." Historical weather data show that there's a 50% chance at best of California seeing a wetter winter. "Unfortunately, due to shifting climate patterns, we cannot even be that sure," he said.
El Niño, a climate pattern in the tropical Pacific, occurs roughly every two to seven years, according to NOAA. Climatologists are already blaming this year's system for droughts in parts of the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.
A battle of nicknames may also be in this El Niño's future: It already has a matinee-idol nickname, thanks to a National Weather Service blogger, who has dubbed it "Bruce Lee."