El Nino and Surf Conditions This Winter

El Nino photo

by Emma Zavala

As many people know, Santa Barbara is supposed to be struck by “El Nino” this winter. El Nino is made of, “ complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. First recognized by Spanish settlers in South America, it means “Little Boy” or “Christ Child” because of its occurrence near Christmas time. Although this may seem bleak because of the dreary weather, El Nino will actually bring some much needed rain and good surf conditions. In Santa Barbara, surf is already better in the winter, and now we may be getting some bigger swells because of the stormy weather. Not only will the waves be bigger, but the water will be warmer.
Unusually warm water is a sign of an incoming El Nino or La Nina. The warm water creates warmer air which creates a strong high pressure system in the air. That, mixed with the storm’s low pressure system, compacts to make a tropical feeling weather pattern. This may sound very scientific, but in reality it’s really just warm air meets cold air and that puts pressure on both pressure systems so that the clouds start precipitating.

Heavy precipitation is also something long overdue in California. Governor Jerry Brown issued a drought State of Emergency in January 2015. California has been in a drought for four years now and we are running dry. If El Niño does hit us here in Santa Barbara, then, we could receive some of the much need rain could appear. In the 1997-1998 El Niño, California received more than 10 inches of precipitation. It isn’t much, but it could help a little bit.

Not only does the storm effect rain and the pressure systems, but lucky enough for us, it means lots of good surf. With warmer than average sea temperatures and storm swells, this should be exciting. This week’s forecast is one to three feet in the SB area with a high of four feet next Tuesday. Although this might not seem like a record high, if the forecast is true, then it will only continue to get better. Santa Barbarans are lucky enough to have a world-renowned surf spot, Rincon Point, and if the swells get big enough, waves could get raging.

Santa Barbara is a special place because of its south-facing peninsula. When south swells hit, there can be up to fifty people in the water at one spot. So find your secret spot, don’t tell anyone, wax your board, and hit the waves because El Niño is promising rain and surf!

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