Predicted El Niño could bring relief to California’s drought crisis

California’s four year drought may come to an end if the El Niño hits the west coast of America. El Niño is a development in the Pacific Ocean every few years that causes the winds to shift and the water in the Pacific Ocean to get warmer than usual. This phenomena affects weather patterns worldwide, mainly the southern United States, bringing wet weather in the winter.

More than 70% of California is now in “extreme” drought conditions, with nearly half of the state classified as in “exceptional” drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. With the drought monitor so high, the state has been enforcing water restrictions while battling a difficult wildfire season.

However, the coming winter could bring a lot of much needed rain. It is also supposed to bring an El Niño that could rival the strongest one ever recorded.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.41.05 PMThe storm, nicknamed Bruce Lee, has the second strongest current of any El Niño recorded for this particular time of year, and could result in the most dramatic weather change in the last 65 years according to federal meteorologists. Too much rain could actually put California at risk because of potential hazards such as flooding and mudslides.

Comparable surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean lead scientists to believe that this storm season could beat that of 1997, which is strongest on record and is used to judge other storms. Heavy rain in California could help suppress the wildfires that have ravaged the state all summer, but could also lead to flooding and mudslides.

Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said crews have battled 1,500 more fires than normal this year, so rain is desperately needed. Another benefit of El Niño is that it reduces the risk of hurricanes in areas on the east coast like Florida.

The U.S. economy gained nearly $22 billion from the 1997-1998 weather pattern.

Though the storm this winter is predicted see a mild start, several abnormally severe storms are predicted to hit the eastern side of the country around February.

There are currently active storm tracks across the southern United States, which could bring above-average precipitation for Southern California, but wetter weather patterns are not expected to extend to north of Central California, so the winter may yet be dry for the Pacific Northwest.

“A big El Niño guarantees nothing,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center.

According to California State Climatologist Michael Anderson, “At this point, there’s no cause for rejoicing that El Niño is here to save the day.” Anderson added to Halpert’s perspective by saying that only half of the storms predicted bring the necessary heavy rains.

The state would need 1.5 times its normal rainfall to get out of the drought, which is unlikely according to Halpert.  As Halpert said, rain is not confirmed for the winter, so the winter ahead could either extend the dry record weather or bring major storms, heavy rain, and coastal storm surges. Although many are already preparing for El Niño, nothing is certain at this point.

By: Tilia Lundberg

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