In a hopeful sign for California, the drought that has battered the state for years might finally see some notable improvements.

On Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released its latest seasonal drought forecast for the U.S. It shows that portions of southern and coastal California could finally see some improvement. In the far southeast corner of the state, the drought is likely to come to an end all together.

The fall and early winter drought outlooks shows some possible relief for parts of California

The fall and early winter drought outlooks shows some possible relief for parts of California.


The cause? That would be El Niño, a warm pool of water in the tropical Pacific that influences weather around the globe including parts of California. The El Niño is expected to persist through the fall and winter and that is the state’s rainy season.

“Overall the expectation is that the odds are tilted enough toward greater precipitation in southern California than you might expect relief from drought,” Dan Collins, a meteorologist at CPC, said.

Before preparing for a deluge of epic proportions, it’s worth noting that the drought forecast for last winter, the heart of the wet season, also indicated California’s drought would see widespread improvement. Some areas of the state, notably northern coastal California, did indeed see improvement. But other areas, particularly the northern Sierras and areas north of Sacramento, saw drought deepen.

The most recent forecast has a few things going for it, notably El Niño is happening in full force. That tends to improve forecast skill, though it by no means is a guarantee that the forecast will get it right every time.

And it’s also worth remembering that while improvement is forecast, it doesn’t mean the state will be drought-free. Not by a long shot since California is currently missing a whole year’s worth of rain since 2012.  The state would have to essentially see twice its normal rainfall to completely escape the drought.

And heat, a major driver of the current drought, is expected to continue in the region through fall and winter. In the Sierras, where snowpack acts as a crucial reservoir for the dry season, that heat could mean snow falls as rain, reducing the benefits of any added precipitation.