An El Niño ocean-warming cycle is strengthening in the Pacific and could produce a wet winter for drought-stricken Southern California. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration updated it’s official forecast late last week, saying there is a greater than 90 percent chance that the pattern will continue through the winter.

This is welcome news for CA and its residents.  The drought has taken its toll on the local citizens, businesses and environment over the past few years. Nearly all models predict El Niño to continue into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, with many multi-model averages predicting a strong event, NOAA said in the new forecast.

An El Niño is a warming of the Pacific’s normal surface temperature by an average of over half a degree centigrade. It is associated with significantly wetter winters in the southwest United States, including central and southern California. Temperatures off the California coast are currently 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than historic averages for this time of year — among the warmest autumn conditions of any time in the past 30 years! The last time the ocean off California was this warm was in 1983 and 1997, both strong El Niño years that brought drenching winter rains to the West Coast.

This warm water has brought an intersting flow of new ocean creatures to the area. Hawaiian ono swimming off the California coast? Hammerhead shark sighting at La Jolla Cove? A sea turtle usually at home off the Galapagos Islands floating near San Francisco?

Rare changes in wind patterns this fall have caused the Pacific Ocean off California and the West Coast to warm to historic levels, drawing in a bizarre menagerie of warm-water species. The mysterious phenomena are surprising fishermen and giving marine biologists an aquatic Christmas in November.

El Niño is the warm phase of a periodic warming and cooling of the Pacific off South America. This cycle is officially called the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. The term El Niño, which is Spanish for the Christ child, arose because fisherman first noticed the warm ocean water around Christmastime.