Rain swamps San Diego, say hello to El Nino

El Nino is back in town and it's raining like a lot Thursday through the weekend/Accuweather

Blame it on El Nino.

After months of promises, infamous climate agitator El Niño finally formed this week, climate scientists announced Thursday. 

“Weak El Niño conditions are present and are expected to continue through the spring,” the Climate Prediction Center said.

El Niño is a periodic natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific. It is among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world.

Heavy rainfall from that powerful El Nino storm system doused San Diego County Thursday morning, prompting several road closures and a school closure amid a flash flood warning, according to the National Weather Service.

The NWS issued a flash flood watch that will remain in effect until this evening throughout the county. A wind advisory will remain in effect in the county mountains until 4 a.m. Saturday.

The weather service also issued a flash flood warning that will last until 11:45 a.m. today for northern San Diego County, including Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, Encinitas, Poway, Del Mar, Fallbrook and Escondido.

Rainfall rates today were expected to reach 0.50 to 1 inch per hour everywhere except desert areas during the peak of the storm, which will last from about 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and could be higher than that during isolated thunderstorms, NWS meteorologist Miguel Miller said.

The San Diego County Office of Education announced that Vallecitos Elementary School in Rainbow was closed today due to flooding.

As of 9 a.m., road closures in San Diego included:

  • San Diego River crossings near Fashion Valley.
  • Mission Road south of Murray Canyon Road in Mission Valley.
  • Sefton Field and Hotel Circle Place in Mission Valley.
  • Outer Road near Coronado Avenue in the Palm City area.
  • Roselle Street near Estuary Way in the Rancho Penasquitos area.
  • Carroll Canyon Road east of Mino Drive to Carroll Road in the Sorrento Valley area.
  • The Carmel Mountain Road/ Sorrento Valley Road intersection.

Moderate flooding of the San Diego River is expected from late this morning until early Friday morning near Fashion Valley and Mission Valley, according to the weather service. Moderate flooding is also expected during the same period for the Santa Margarita River near Camp Pendleton.

Two-day precipitation totals as of 9 a.m. included 6.64 inches in the Palomar area; 6.12 inches at Birch Hill; 4.02 in Fallbrook; 3.22 in Julian; 2.85 in Valley Center; 2.66 in Pine Valley; 2.62 in Oceanside; 2.59 in Santa Ysabel; 2.45 at Mount Laguna; 1.90 in Ramona; 1.65 in Carlsbad; 1.61 in Escondido; 1.42 in Santee; 1.37 in Encinitas; 1.20 in Poway; 1.08 in La Mesa; 1.03 in Solana Beach; 0.91 at Montgomery Field; 0.86 near Fashion Valley; 0.67 at the Tijuana Estuary and Brown Field; 0.61 at Lindbergh Field; and 0.59 in San Ysidro, according to the weather service.

The highest precipitation total for the deserts were San Felipe with 1.65 inches, 1.16 near Coyote Creek, 1.18 in Borrego Palm Canyon and 0.66 in Borrego Springs.

Coastal and inland-valley areas are expected to get anywhere between 1.5 to 2.3 inches of rainfall today while the mountains are forecast to receive between 5.5 and 7 inches of rainfall; between 1 and 3 inches is expected in the county deserts, forecasters said.

Snow levels will remain above 8,000 feet during the day, then drop to around 6,000 feet tonight, Miller said.

South-to-southwest winds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts reaching 55 mph, are expected to continue through this evening, according to the NWS.

The most steady and intense rain is expected this morning through early this afternoon. Then the storm will die down by this evening, Miller said.

A chance of scattered showers will return Friday evening and remain through Monday afternoon, the meteorologist said.


KGTV-10 News followed the the mishaps on local highways during the Thursday morning commute.

Some of the rain-related issues on local roads (updates through the morning drive):

Cal Fire engine rolls over in Bonsall area
— (7:15 a.m.) Cal Fire officials said a fire engine rolled over and crashed into a ditch off Old Highway 395 in the Bonsall area. The incident, which happened at 6:13 a.m., led to the closure of Old Highway 395 between Circle R Drive and Camino Del Rey in both directions. Cal Fire officials confirmed at least three fire personnel were transported to the hospital for evaluation.

Car overturns in Mission Valley crash
— (6:27 a.m.) A collision involving two vehicles led to one of them overturning and blocking a lane on westbound I-8 near Taylor Street.

Vehicle hit by another after losing control on SR-78
— (6:17 a.m.) A vehicle lost control on eastbound SR-78 just west of Melrose Drive and was struck by another car, but no injuries were immediately reported.

Truck spins out on I-15
— (6:03 a.m.) A pickup truck spun out on southbound I-15 near Scripps Poway Parkway, blocking the HOV lanes and backing up traffic.

Section of SR-76 south of Rainbow closed due to flooding
— (6 a.m.) The CHP said SR-67 just east of Rice Canyon was shut down due to flooding and a boulder in the road.

Collision backs up South Bay traffic
— (5:49 a.m.) A collision involving two vehicles on westbound SR-54 at I-805 is stalling traffic in the area.

Car spins out on SR-78 in Oceanside
— (5:49 a.m.) A car spun out on westbound SR-78 and hit the center divider, the CHP said, leading to one lane being blocked.

Spinout leads to multi-vehicle crash on I-805
— (5:45 a.m.) A car spun out on northbound I-805 near Nobel Drive in University City, hitting at least one other vehicle to start a chain-reaction crash that blocked two lanes. At least three vehicles were involved in the wreck, the CHP said.

Car rolls over on SR-67 in Santee area
— (4:45 a.m.) A driver lost control on northbound SR-67 near Riverford Road and rolled over, but no injuries were reported. Several drivers that stopped to help were amazed that the woman inside the car survived. No other vehicles were involved in the wreck.

Flooding blocking SR-78 ramp in Oceanside
— (3:50 a.m.) The eastbound SR-78 onramp from El Camino Real was closed due to flooding, according to the California Highway Patrol. As of 5:30 a.m., there is no word on when the ramp will reopen.

Semi-truck crashes on I-8 in La Mesa
— (1:15 a.m.) A semi-truck jackknifed on the ramp from westbound I-8 to southbound SR-125, likely due to the roadway being wet from overnight rain. The driver was not injured, but the truck caused some damage to a rail on the ramp.

Back to El Nino

Otherwise, looking ahead, forecasters said Thursday that “due to the expected weak strength, widespread or significant global impacts are not anticipated.”

Officially, federal forecasters say there’s no reliable way to predict what El Niños might mean for the spring thunderstorm and tornado season. However, some recent research has shown that a weak, fading El Niño increases the probability for tornado outbreaks in the Upper Midwest in May. Other research has indicated it brings a quieter tornado season in the Southeast.

And as for hurricanes, although this El Niño isn’t necessarily expected to last through the summer, El Niños often tend to suppress the number of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic.

However, El Niños tend to increase hurricane activity in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which can affect Mexico, the U.S. Southwest and Hawaii. Federal forecasters make seasonal hurricane predictions in late May, so it’s too early for a definitive forecast yet, Halpert said.

More: El Niños to strengthen because of global warming, will cause ‘more extreme weather’, study says

During an El Niño, water temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean get a few degrees warmer than average for an extended period of time – typically at least three to five months.

Though the ocean had warmed to El Niño levels over the past few months, the atmosphere had yet to respond to that warming, which prompts the official designation. It has now.

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