Will This Year Be The Worst El Niño Yet?

There could be a blast from the past coming this winter (and no, we're not talking about the potential/probable return of Jon Snow to Game of Thrones). We haven't had a really pronounced El Niño season for a while, but according to authorities (including the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center), that might be due for a change. We're in for a bad El Niño in 2015, and experts fear it could be one of the worst on record.

If you lived through the late 1990s, surely El Niño is burned into your memory. That was more or less the first time the climate phenomenon really exploded into the public consciousness. You had relentless storms, egregiously overplayed late-night talk show jokes, and even a really bad comedy single by the guy who recorded "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." California residents remember the situation all too well. As The Los Angeles Times details, that record-setting storm season killed 17 residents of the Golden State and caused more than $500 million in property damage. Simply put, it was a mess, also contributing to droughts in other parts of the world, and now it's feared that 2015 could even eclipse that staggering benchmark.

For the uninitiated, El Niño refers to an unusual warming of surface water temperature in the Pacific. It stretches like a band, from the northern coast of South America out eastward into the ocean, and the warming causes dramatic changes in air pressure. It has the potential to produce aberrant climates in far-reaching parts of the globe. Australia, in particular, is affected by El Niño in entirely different ways than how it impacts America's West Coast. The country is prone to decreased rainfall, warmer temperatures, and heightened risk of wildfires. Indonesia, as well, is already suffering from severe drought conditions brought on by this current El Niño pattern.

Over the past 45 years, as Mashable details, three El Niño seasons have stood out as the worst, most adversely affecting human life. The biggest one was that infamous '97-'98 season, followed by a particularly nasty one in '82-'82 and one in '72-'73. The former two had an enormous impact, although notably, it wasn't until that late-'90s surge that the name really took off — as the Washington Post notes, coverage of the '82-'83 El Niño didn't even identify it as such, owing to a less-comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon.

If you're looking for good news out of this, however, there is one potentially positive aspect: California needs some rainfall and badly, too. For the last four years, the state's been locked in the worst drought in its recorded history, forcing water-use restrictions on the citizenry and contributing to a recent scourge of wildfires.

While it's not yet clear whether El Niño months will offset those years of drought — and there are other concerns that go along with it, like whether California's dams can accommodate the coming deluge — a wet winter is in every sense what Californians have been hoping for. It'd obviously be better if it wasn't coming in quite such a worrying, potentially destructive form, but assuming the state's public safety infrastructure is able to keep things reasonably stable, you could see some residents pleased with the downpours to come.