Tag Archives: El Niño

Massive El Niño Could End Drought, Bring Floods to California

Predictions of a huge El Niño event bring concerns across the globe

by Brian Leubitz

One of the interesting things about El Niño is that is somewhat predictable months ahead of time. April traditionally is one of the worst months for such predictions, but a very large pocket of warm water in the Pacific is bringing warnings of dire impacts.

The warm water just below the ocean’s surface is on par with that of the biggest El Niño ever recorded, in 1997-98. That event caused $35 billion in damages and was blamed for around 23,000 deaths worldwide, according to the University of New South Wales. The 1997-98 El Niño is also the only other time since records begin in 1980 that sub-surface Pacific Ocean water has been this warm in April.

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As I wrote last fall, the coming El Niño could be enough to make 2014 the hottest year in recorded history, and 2015 could be even warmer than that. … And people in drought-stricken California could be forgiven if they’re crossing their fingers for a strong El Niño, which is linked to some of the wettest years in state history. Still, it’s certainly no slam dunk that an El Niño would be enough to end the crippling drought there or even bring above normal rainfall. And if the El Niño ends up being as strong as current predictions indicate, there’s a chance it may even tip the scales from drought to deluge across the state, spurring damaging mudslides amid bursts of heavy rain. The two strongest El Niños in the last 30 years-1982-83 and 1997-98-both caused widespread damage from flooding in California. (Slate / Eric Holthaus)

Given that we still haven’t hit 50% of our average seasonal weather for the winter/fall wet season, the rain would certainly be welcome and would ease a lot of the very tensions in the Central Valley. That being said, we can no longer ignore the long range planning issues for climate change even if we get a very wet winter next year. The drought cycles aren’t going to get any better, and we need to clearly prioritize our plans for water so that we aren’t fighting each time water allowances are cut.