NASA releases photos showing strong El Nino for 2016

A satellite shows an image of the ocean warming because of El Nino on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, alongside a similar image taken in 1997. (NASA)

In 1997, El Nino claimed 17 lives and caused more than half a billion dollars in damage throughout California, and it's starting to look like the 2016 El Nino could bring similar devastation.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab released a photo Tuesday, which showed the ocean warming based on data from its Jason-2 satellite. The patterns closely resemble images from December 1997.

"We do need to be cautious. It's not a guarantee that we'll receive a lot precipitation, but it definitely tilts the odds that we'll receive a wet winter," Mark Johnson said.

Jackson, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, said not all strong El Ninos are alike. But so far, Southern California has yet to see any rain. Downtown Los Angeles has received about 1 inch of rain since October, which is just 30 percent above normal.

"Historically, February is our wettest month, and that is especially true with strong El Ninos, where most of the precipitation occurs in that January, February, March time frame," he said.

El Nino is already being felt in other parts of the country. The Midwest received a lot of rain, which caused deadly floods, and storms in the Sierra Nevada dumped several feet of snow this month.

Although Southern California hasn't seen a significant amount of rainfall, experts said this is the time for people to prepare for the storm.
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