By Justin Worland
July 9, 2015

El Niño has strengthened and will likely peak in the late fall and last until the spring, bringing much-needed relief to regions in California affected by drought, federal weather officials said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there is now a 90% chance that El Niño will last through the winter and an 80% chance it will last into spring 2016.

“The stronger this event becomes, the more confident that next winter we’ll see stronger precipitation in California and the whole southwestern United States,” said Mike Halpert, an official at NOAA.

In previous strong El Niño events, California has seen a 150% to 200% increase in rainfall compared to average years, according to Halpert. Peak rainfall during El Niño typically occurs in late fall or early winter. At the same time, parts of the U.S. located far from the Western seaboard may experience a decline in precipitation.

For California, though, the relief couldn’t come soon enough. The state received the least precipitation in decades in 2014, following years of similarly low rain levels. Still, despite the strong predictions, Halpert says it’s worth withholding excitement over the storm. “There’s still a little ways to go before we get to where this event should peak,” he said.

Read More: Why Some California Cities Are Bracing for a Bear Invasion

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