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LA NINA IN SOUTHLAND AGAIN DRIER YEAR, MORE FIRE DANGER ARE EXPECTED.

Byline: Eric Leach Staff Writer

After near-record rainfall greened up Southern California in 2005, a La Nina effect will likely bring a much drier spring and summer this year, with a spike in fire danger, officials said Thursday.

The mild cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean traditionally means stronger and more frequent hurricanes in the Southeast, wet weather in the Pacific Northwest and dry conditions in Southern California.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center made the announcement at the American Meteorological Society's meeting in Atlanta, confirming the slight cooling of parts of the Pacific Ocean and changes in the jet stream.

El Nino, which leads to the opposite effect of La Nina, occurs when tropical ocean temperatures warm, typically sending wetter weather toward Southern California.

``In Southern California, we will probably have normal to below-normal rainfall,'' said Larry Riddle, a climatologist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. ``When we are in a La Nina condition, we almost never get really wet years.''

While it should be drier, that doesn't mean drought, he said.

``It's probable we will have normal to below-normal rainfall, but it's just as likely to have the below-normal rainfall during the weaker El Ninos.''

During what was described by some as one of those weak El Ninos, the 2004-05 rainfall period from July 1 to June 30 was Los Angeles' second- wettest year in recorded history.

The 37.25 inches of rain in downtown Los Angeles last year made it the wettest year since the 38.18 inches that fell in 1883-84.

Normal rainfall in Los Angeles is 15.11 inches. So far this season, 4.95 inches has been measured downtown, compared with a normal reading to date of 7.25 inches, and a whopping 22.85 inches last year at this time.

The dry year so far also has firefighters concerned.

``We have had some red flag warnings over the last couple of months because of the dry conditions and winds,'' said Inspector Ron Haralson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Denise King, a spokeswoman for Southern California Gas Co., said warmer temperatures than expected in parts of the nation have resulted in lower natural gas prices than feared late last year, but the average gas bill is still going up compared with last winter.

The typical residential monthly bill could increase to $105 this winter compared with $79 last year in Southern California, she said.

``The winter's not over yet. Our customers should practice conservation and energy efficiency in their homes, turning their thermostats down three to five degrees to help reduce their bills,'' King said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that La Nina conditions will likely remain into late spring, and possibly into summer.

La Ninas occur about every three to five years. The most recent La Nina occurred in 2000-01 and was a relatively weak event compared with 1998-2000.

Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, said it is too early to say what effects this event will have on the 2006 hurricane season.

William Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, refers to neutral periods as ``La Nada'' (Spanish for ``nothing''), and predicted last fall that there would be weak La Nina to La Nada conditions this winter.

He said at the time that he expected drier conditions this winter but warned that the lack of a strong El Nino or La Nina trend leaves the Southern California weather outlook difficult to predict.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

Eric Leach, (805) 583-7602

eric.leach(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

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Map:

Jet stream causing warm weather

SOURCES: National Weather Service; Weather Underground

Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 3, 2006
Words:622
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