According to meteorologists, drought stricken California is about to be hit by a weather pattern that will bring “significant” precipitation with rainfall up to five inches in some areas. This is thanks to El Niño, a wet weather pattern that develops when the waters of the Pacific Ocean warm up. The Sierra Nevada could see several feet of much-needed snow as well. Computer prediction models are all lining up and the storm promises to be a “classic winter event” with heavy rain, winds and even the potential for flash flooding. If all goes as predicted, El Niño will soon deliver a big wet kiss to the parched state with the first, lighter storm Wednesday and Thursday and heavier rains Friday through Saturday.
Earlier this month a “Pineapple Express” storm doubled the season rain total in Northern California’s Marin and Sonoma Counties but left the rest of the state high, dry and very disappointed. The impending El Niño storm is expected to be an equal opportunity provider and not just damp down the dust but drop significant rainfall across the state.
If the storm delivers, it will be a big relief to not only California residents and those in agriculture impacted by the drought but also to firefighters who are experiencing summertime fire conditions in the middle of what is supposed to be the rainy season. According to Tom Harbour, the national director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service, current conditions are at “critical levels” and he is not just “hoping for rain”, he is “praying” for it.
California is experiencing its third year of severe drought and this season is on track to be the worst since the mid 19th century when California rainfall statistics were first recorded. The parched state needs every inch of precipitation it can get and a wet kiss from El Niño would be a very welcome weather event especially for farmers and ranchers. So many in agriculture have lost critical crops or been forced to sell off prime livestock for lack of grazing resources. At this point, significant rainfall and a little bit of green grass could make a big difference for Californians impacted by the seemingly never-ending drought conditions.
Looking to the future, there is tentative but encouraging news on the El Niño front that predicts a much wetter weather pattern for California next winter, perhaps even one which could produce enough rain to bring the state out of drought status. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting a 49 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern by August of 2014. Even more encouraging, a collaboration of international scientists has published their prediction of a 75 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern developing next winter.
The analytic methods used by these scientists have been questioned by some and even the director of the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, Mike Halpert has said predictions are “no guarantee” and that he has seen El Niños that simply did not “pan out.”
However, many meteorologists are encouraged by the NOAA predictions that would appear to be supported by the international team of scientists. The forecast seems to be that an El Niño weather pattern is likely to kiss California more than once this year. However, while a cautiously optimist predication of wet weather for next year is encouraging, Californians are simply looking to next week for a little bit of relief from the dry conditions that have pushed California into a state of drought emergency.
By Alana Marie Burke
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