The Dry Garden: Predictions of La Niña winter

Autumn and early winter are traditionally considered planting season in Southern California because nature can be expected to cooperate. As days shorten and rains come, seeds germinate, newly transplanted saplings deepen their roots and established plants awaken from dormancy.

Yet not all years are created equal, and this coming planting season has all the hallmarks of a tricky one.

National Weather Service predictions for a La Niña cycle are becoming less tentative and more ominous. That means ocean temperature trends in the equatorial Pacific have shifted to the opposite of last winter —  a way that augurs drought.

How dry our rainy season might be is unknowable; this brooding La Niña might even produce a wet year, but the odds are stacked sharply against that. According to Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert, 82% of the La Niñas since 1949 have had below-average rainfall. “Some are way below average,” he said. “This is a strong La Niña. It really tilts the scale. It’s an 80% to 90% probability of a dry winter.”

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