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One of strongest El Niño systems on record threatens to soak West Coast for weeks

The NOAA said Tuesday the current El Niño system has tied the most powerful on record, from 1997-98.
By Doug G. Ware   |   Jan. 5, 2016 at 7:04 PM

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A strong storm system sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean will likely dump heavy rains on parts of California for the next two weeks, forecasters said -- perhaps making it the strongest El Niño on record.

Light rains fell on California Monday ahead of heavier precipitation, forecasters said. Along with the rains comes the danger of landslides and other accidents associated with the storm.

Meteorologists said two additional storms will follow Wednesday and Thursday and bring as much as three inches of rain. The National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a flash flood watch for the state of California and parts of Montana.

"Wet weather is in store for most of interior Northern California tonight through Tuesday as a storm system moves through the region. Much of the Valley will see at least half an inch of rain, with upwards of 2 inches possible over the mountains," the NWS said on its website.

El Niño storms, frequent on the West Coast, are created when Pacific winds change course and lead to a temporary warming of the ocean, which is followed by weather patterns. El Niño patterns typically peak early and late in any given year.

Last month, NASA warned that the current El Niño system could rival the strongest one ever recorded, in 1997, when an estimated 23,000 people died in storm-related incidents around the Pacific in the Americas.

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this El Niño has tied the season from 1997-98 as the most powerful on record based on surface water temperature over a three-month period near the equator.

Landslides are just one concern of many associated with such a strong system. Traffic accidents, storm damage and flooding also typically accompany severe weather storms such as this -- particularly over a sustained period of time.

"The fear is some of these storms come and you get too much at once, which could lead to flooding concerns," Weather Channel producer Matt Sitkowski said. "It doesn't take much in parts of California."

Experts say El Niños, on average, occur about once every two to seven years.

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