Public Safety

Winter Forecast: Mostly Warm, Near Average Rainfall

National Weather Service forecaster Alex Tardy talks to first responders about developing ocean conditions and how it could affect our winter.

Looking at precipitation prediction models that track storms and historical data, the San Diego office of the National Weather Service is forecasting our winter with warmer than average temperatures and rainfall at or slightly below average.

We’ll have only a few windows of opportunity for significant precipitation from December to March.

Otherwise, it will be warm and dry with more Santa Ana winds expected.

In the near term, our best chance for rain will likely be in mid-November. San Diego’s more recent winters have trended toward fewer rainy days but with heavier precipitation and localized flooding from those storms, National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Tardy told a gathering of first responders, including fire and lifeguard officials, emergency managers, military and water utility personnel at a Winter Weather Workshop.

The meeting is held annually at the County’s Office of Emergency Services to help cities and first responders plan for the upcoming season and learn about new technology and local, state and federal resources in the event of adverse weather.

“If we don’t get that rain in mid-November, then we’re talking about severe fire weather conditions again like last year going into December,” said Tardy.

Warm equatorial ocean conditions, or El Niño, are developing now. These similar conditions have usually brought average rainfall, 10 inches in San Diego, or dry winters in recent years, although very wet seasons occurred in 1994-95 and 2004-05. The last wet El Niño year was the 2009-10 winter.

Most recently, La Niña, or cool equatorial ocean temperatures, has coincided with San Diego’s wettest winters in 2010-11 and 2016-17, Tardy said.

“The biggest takeaway in our perspective from the National Weather Service is the extremes that we’ve been seeing over the past several years, temperature, even rainfall rates, heavy localized rainfall, warm summers, mild winters, and drought conditions. We probably shouldn’t focus on just El Niño/La Niña. Every winter we should be thinking, ‘Okay there’s going to be a couple storms, anywhere from two to four that are going to produce high winds and heavy rains, so how are we going to deal with those individual storms in terms of flooding and wind damage, preparedness and response?'”

Tardy recapped the extreme warm summer: It was the second-hottest July and August in San Diego history with record warm ocean temperatures in 2018 capping the warmer than usual waters over the past several years. This and last year’s dry winter combine to set up the dangerous fuel conditions we face, which put the region at risk for a major wildfire.

“We know we’re going to get Santa Ana winds, they’re inevitable now. It’s a matter of will we get really strong ones, will we get several of them and will it rain in the fall, meaning significantly, before and in time so we can reduce the impact,” Tardy said.

CAL FIRE San Diego Unit Deputy Chief Nick Schuler said the forecast and learning about resources such as flood inundation maps is important to help them decide staffing and the prepositioning of specialized swiftwater rescue teams when needed.

“So, whether it’s fires or floods, we work cooperatively with agencies both at the local, state and federal level and here within San Diego County. For us, the importance of knowing what our cooperators are doing, looking at new technology and finding ways to be better prepared days ahead of an event helps us and the community,” said Schuler.

Capt. Larry Giles, of the Encinitas Fire Department’s Marine Safety division, said his city is prone to flooding and swiftwater situations.

“The significant data collection I’m looking for on the marine safety side for our city is obviously storm activity on our coastline area, threats for coastal erosion, large surf events, and we’re looking at the flooding and swiftwater potential throughout the county. We try to get a pretty good size-up on the data so we can somewhat react to it as best we can, to be more prepared and to have a good understanding of what to expect for the upcoming season,” he said.

Stephen Rea, assistant director of the County Office of Emergency Services, said the annual workshop is important for the region.

“We are looking forward to the winter ahead and to our response agencies, our recovery agencies and making sure we’re prepared. But even more than that, as our region’s weather continues to change, we’re looking at the long term. We’re making sure that everything we learn at the winter weather workshop gets integrated into our long-range planning. So that as weather changes, we change right along with it,” he said.

For San Diego residents, the main message to prevent problems with both high fire danger and potential flooding is preparing around your home. Clean gutters, clear drainage channels of debris to allow water to flow.

To learn more about how to prepare for both wildfires and flooding, visit Click on the Know Your Hazards banner to check to see if you live in a flood plain or in a high fire risk community and Wildfire to learn how to maintain defensible space and Flooding to learn how to protect your property.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact