As California endures the third year of drought, and the arid temperatures have taken their toll, scientists predict El Niño’s arrival by Fall this year. Unfortunately for the state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also predicted a moderate storm rather than a strong one.
California is thirsty and is in desperate need of rain. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, calling for voluntary water conservation and funneling millions of dollars to farmers to ensure they get water more quickly, and to municipalities to ensure communities have safe drinking water and are prepared for the fire season. He also provided funding to aid displaced farm workers. “I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible,” Brown said.
The current California drought is the worst since the five-year drought from 1987 to 1992, and it is taking its toll. California’s major cities received less than their average rainfall last winter, and without rain the drought could cost thousands of California farm jobs and cause 400 thousand acres of farmland to be left plowed and unseeded this growing season.
Several California counties have called for drastic water conservation. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, in 2009, instituted a conservation program in which it bought back residents’ grass. The program did not have much participation until last year when they increased the rebate to up to $4000. The increase caused an upswing in resident interest and participation by three times as many households. Residents could apply to have their grass ripped out and replaced with “California friendly” landscaping, including xeriscaping with rocks, succulents, and shrubs.
The Bay Area instituted water use penalties in May, requiring a 25 percent reduction in water use or their bills could double or even triple on the first offense. Citizens participated with shorter showers, less car washing, and reduced lawn watering.
Officials at the National Weather Service are forecasting a hotter than normal California summer. The federal government has already declared 100 percent of the state’s land area in “severe drought.” California’s drought has taken its toll, and the upcoming El Niño may not be as bountiful as needed. According the NOAA, moderate El Niño storms have yielded far less rainfall than categorically stronger storms.
To predict El Niño’s severity, scientists monitor Pacific Ocean temperatures. Heavy rainfall is more likely when the water is warmer at the equator. Marginally warmer than average Pacific Ocean temperatures usually mean scientists do not know what kind of winter will occur. This year, it is likely that the rainfall will be less than other years. “The question now is what flavor of El Niño we’re going to get,” said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I’ve got my money on this being El Wimpo.”
According to Michelle L’Heureux of the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the Pacific’s waters are warming, but the NOAA is still waiting for atmospheric conditions to change. The storm could strengthen, but a moderate El Niño might not provide the relief California needs.
El Niño is highly likely this year, but in California, the drought has already taken its toll. With water conservation efforts in full force and the fire season just beginning, any rainfall provided by El Niño this winter, moderate or small, will be better than none.
By Brandi M. Fleeks