SONOMA, Calif. -- Where did El Nino go?
Winter has suddenly switched off the rain and flipped on heat up to 95 degrees in California, raising jitters that the strong El Nino might not be the drought-buster the crispy state had hoped.
Heat records have fallen across the West in recent days, from Oregon to Phoenix to Los Angeles, where surfers hit the beaches and golfers strolled fairways.
Much of California marked its 10th straight day on Friday without measurable precipitation. The blue skies were increasingly unwelcome in a state that just logged its four driest years on record. California has been looking for a robust and rainy El Nino to bring it out of mandatory water cutbacks.
"It's nice to have the weather, but we hope to have the rain," Tia Gavin of Santa Rosa said as she showed out-of-town visitors around the adobe central plaza of the wine country town of Sonoma. Strollers in shorts surveyed restaurant windows and lolled on blankets on green grass under the sun.
The dry spell came after El Nino dropped near-normal rain and snow earlier this winter.
"If you just looked at the precipitation, you wouldn't think that there was an El Nino going on," said Sam Iacobellis, a climate researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. He has been taking note of early blooming flowers as he drove to work this week.
Strong El Ninos such as the one this year typically bring strong rain, Iacobellis said. However, there have been few modern El Ninos on the scale of this one, making comparisons trickier, he said.
National Weather Service forecasters were quick to offer soothing messages of drizzle yet to come.
"No need to be concerned," forecaster Steve Anderson said.
The balmy weather has "been awesome. It's been great. But it's not going to last," he said. "It's still winter."
Californians are particularly concerned about whether the warm stretch is melting the above-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. The snow generally provides about a third of the state's water when it thaws in the spring.
There again, not to worry, forecaster Travis Wilson said.
Parts of the Sierras broke heat records on at least two days this month, but nights have all fallen below freezing, keeping the precious new snow intact, he explained.
The heat is expected to peak around Monday, with more record highs possible all the way to Washington state and in parts of Arizona. More seasonal weather patterns were expected to bring some rain back to California midweek.
Californians are adjusting in the meantime. Bryan Stranahan had to do something unusual for this time of year when he went out Friday to run errands in Los Angeles.
"I normally don't have to look for a shady parking spot until August or September," the New York native said.
"I'm not complaining," he added.
AP writer Samantha Schotzbarger contributed to this report from Phoenix.