Glorious Rain Will Greet the New Year, but Don't Call it El Niño

UPDATE at 2:08 p.m., Monday, Jan. 4, 2016: It now appears that El Niño is fueling this weather. See our latest, "El Niño Is Here!"

Some experts say that if the El Niño weather phenomenon brings much-needed rain to drought-stricken Southern California, it will happen between January and March.

So we were impressed when forecasters started putting rain on our calendar starting Monday night. The new year is just getting here, and El Niño is right on time.

Or is it?

Experts say the rain we're likely to get probably isn't El Niño-related, unfortunately.

"This could happen during a typical winter," said Andy Mussoline, senior meteorologist at private forecasting service AccuWeather

Mike Wofford, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, agreed. "We definitely could see something like this in any given winter," he said.

Despite the possibility of on-and-off, Monday-through-Thursday rain, it doesn't look like El Niño is pushing storms into our coastline just yet, the experts said.

Mussoline of AccuWeather explained that the first front, expected to strike overnight Sunday into early Monday, is actually El Niño-like. It's being carried on a southern branch of our Pacific jet stream associated with El Niño winters in SoCal. 

However, it's not likely to bring us much rain at all, he said. Expected precipitation is "not too significant," Mussoline said, "and then it's on its way out."

A Tuesday night storm could bring real rain. But it's part of a typical low front from the north and not reflective of an El Niño-pattern storm, he said.

A third front could hit Wednesday night through Thursday, Mussoline said. Again, however, it's a typical winter-pattern storm for SoCal.

"El Niño," he said, "hasn't set up quite yet."

"The Sunday-night/Monday rain is associated with the southern branch of the jet stream, and during El Niño years that southern branch is what we look for to bring heavy rain to the L.A. area," Mussoline said. "But the southern jet stream hasn't been too active yet. The midweek storms are coming from the northern branch of the jet stream."

Mussoline was predicting 1 to 2 inches of rain for all the storms from overnight Sunday through Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service was less bullish on the possibility of a good drenching.

"It doesn't look anything more than a typical winter storm," said Wofford of the NWS. "It looks like your average good rain event. It's not a week's worth of persistent rain. There's the possibility of some rain Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

The snow level for local mountains will be at 6,000 feet at first and get lower, maybe to 5,000 feet, as colder fronts move in midweek, the forecasters said.

In the meantime a cool offshore event will bring strong northern winds to the valleys and mountains through the weekend and, yes, overnight low temperatures will remain near freezing, they said.

The storms could actually make mornings a little warmer in the L.A. basin by providing a blanket of cloud cover. Mussoline predicts that lows will head back to the normal range  — in the mid- to upper-40s — by midweek.

For you New Year's Eve revelers, be prepared for a midnight temperature of 48 degrees, he said.

That's one cold kiss.

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