California drought could be broken by El Nino

Is California on tap for wet winter this year?

The focus on weather in the United States is natural given the extremes we’ve seen this year across the Lower 48.

Places in the U.S. Corn Belt and Tornado Alley frequently saw more rain in a single day than much of California saw in an entire year. Austin, Texas has had more than twice the rain this year (over 38 inches) than did Seattle at just over 16 inches.

Recently some of the weather prognosticators went out to the end of the limb and bragged that a “Super El Niño” is a sure thing this winter. The implication was that California will see a winter akin to 1982-83 or 1997-98 when much of the state flooded and there were reports of fresh water well out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge because of the flush of fresh water flowing through the Delta.

A tone of caution is being offered by forecasters with WeatherBell Analytics where meteorologists Joe Bastardi and Joe D’Aleo seem to think that a moderate-to-strong El Niño is more in line. According to D’Aleo, the ocean temperatures seen during the 1997-98 event are just not as strong or as deep today as they were then.

I looked at a web site that showed precipitation anomalies across the US in El Niño and La Niña seasons. In moderate and strong El Niño events California and Arizona were wetter than normal, but not by much.

El Niño events in the “very strong” category, as were seen in 1982-83 and 1997-98, saw the heaviest rainfall in California and Arizona, with similar anomalies seen across the South.

The optimist in me suggests that we may be arguing degrees of separation that are inconsequential. If statistics bear any fruit and the forecasters are right – they appear to all pointing in the same direction – we will see significant drought relief this winter.

Given California’s phobia for water storage projects and its ability to regularly kick common sense to the curb this is a good thing.

If it does rain in copious amounts this winter we can continue to bury our heads in the sand, soggy as it may be by next January, and ignore the lessons of history and the needs of a growing population.

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