El Niño could bring drought relief to California – Or disaster

“The Pacific is in a really extreme configuration right now.” Compares to the El Niño of 1997, the strongest El Niño on record.


Thanks to El Niño, there’s a favorable chance that this winter will be wetter than average in southern California, said Mike Halpert of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

In the two strongest El Niños on record, 1982-83 and 1997-98, relentless damaging storms pelted California.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by warming Pacific Ocean waters west of Peru that cause changes in the atmosphere, and can dramatically alter weather worldwide.

Right now, the ocean is getting hotter.

Comparison of the Nov 1997 and July 2015 El Niños in the Pacific Ocean west of Peru. Areas of warm water, shown in red, in 1997.  (NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory)

On July 15, a key area in the Pacific Ocean measured 3 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It’s very similar to the reading taken on July 16, 1997 of 3.2 degrees F above average.

That has experts concerned, because the summer of 1997 ushered in the strongest El Niño in the modern record.

El Niño usually brings in a subtropical jet stream that runs over the jungles of southern Mexico and Nicaragua, said Bill Patzert, climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. That’s why Central America has rain forests.

This subtropical jet stream, which has already shifted to the north, is somewhat responsible for the devastating storms that pelted Texas and Oklahoma this spring and pushed those states out of drought, Patzert said.

El Nino Track
El Niño can bring abnormally wet conditions to much of California, along with the rest of the southern United States. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / climate.gov)

However, the waters west of California and Mexico are much warmer than average — something that wasn’t seen in 1997, said Daniel Swain, climate scientist at Stanford University.

“This is not something we’ve seen in previous strong El Niños. This is a very unusual configuration,” Swain said. “The Pacific is in a really extreme configuration right now.”

With all that said, there’s no guarantee that this El Niño will act exactly like the one in 1997-98


19 thoughts on “El Niño could bring drought relief to California – Or disaster”

  1. sheesh its normal.
    Bob Tisdale does possibly THE Best ENSO and la nina / el nino detailing over at WUWT
    thing is you missed a few events as they fizzled hence the cali dryup
    Aus had 10 bloody years of drought before we finally got a decent el nino which for us means wet wet n flooding(opposite of yours)
    this years has slid down to the ath american/mex join area so cali mightnt be saved entirely but they prob will get more rain..depends on the winds.

  2. Too many variables in the climate to accurately predict future weather. All we can do is look for a trend and that tren is not warming.

  3. With all the lies NOAA has spouted over the last decade or so, why are we paying attention to anything it says?

    • I visit the Oregon coast almost every year. I can verify that even though that ocean water is still cold (wouldn’t want to swim in that), I *definitely* noticed it was warmer than normal, without a doubt.

      • The issue is not so much actual temperature as the regional differential. If a 100 km2 region warms by 2K it will cause increased evaporation and atmospheric over-turning over that small region.
        In this case land to the E is likely to then see increased precipitation.

    • The “Blob” is a pocket of hot ocean along the Pacific Coast over the top of the Pacific Rim of Fire about 5.4 degrees F higher than average. Cause “unknown” and not caused by man or “AGW”. It appears to be a controlling factor of the weather across North America.

      • Those two NOAA images show warm water regions which could be the result of volcanic/ hydro-thermal activity. I’ve suspected for years that the ENSO is triggered by magma movements and subduction zone heating.
        Sea-bed volcanic rocks ~2500kg/metre cube.
        Water 1000kg/m3
        Sea-level air ~1.2kg/m3
        The rock:air mass ratio is ~2000:1 so it is easy to understand how sea-bed warming could influence atmospheric circulation patterns.

    • hotter. all up and down the west coast from alaska to california we are experiencing algae blooms. those don’t happen in cold waters. there have been warnings not to eat the seafood and fish. several seasonal harvests are already being effected. some green algae, brown algae too. they are worried about the red tied/ ppl getting sick, since these are a neurotoxin and can cause permanent damage if eaten in enough quantity.

  4. According to Joe Bastardi, the waters around Australia are warmer than at that time, also. He thinks the spike in temperatures will be followed by plunging ocean temps, particularly in the Pacific and that influence will add to the coming cooling global temps.

  5. El Niño may shift the storms toward California, however how far North they will reach could be in question. Normally El Nino would bring rain to much of Central and Northern California. The question is, will the “Blob” keep them South heading through Southern California then swinging North across Texas and the Midwest. The Polar Vortex caused by the “Blob” mixed with the moisture from the South could bring heavy snow to the Midwest. “Blob” = hot pocket of ocean water off the West Coast.

  6. Other than the title, how is this a disaster?

    The only thing I can think of with heavy rains that could be a disaster in that state would be if it rained so much there was a dam failure, or maybe in the southern parts some mudslides.

    But in theory both things are supposed to be planned for; the dams are supposed to be designed for flood control, supposedly adequate to handle the worst case scenario of rainfall. The rest of the aqueduct system is supposed to support that concept.

    In theory also any town with mudslide hazards is supposed to identify those in the Safety Element of their General plan and include methods to mitigate them by things like not allowing building in mudslide prone areas or by engineering techniques designed to offset those qualities.

    And I say that as someone who’s worked on environmental impact studies for several years in central and southern CA. .. albeit over 30 years ago.

    • The disaster will be for the insurance companies and the local governments that will have to absorb potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in claims and unbudgeted expenditures.
      EIR studies for new developments don’t address the problems with the older proprties that were built before engineering judgement was applied to hillside and floodplain development.

  7. New Zealand, August 9, 2015: Motorists stranded by South Island snow rescued by locals
    Motorists trapped by snow at Lewis Pass, between Canterbury and the West Coast, have local residents to thank for rescue in freezing conditions and a roof over their head on Saturday night.
    Heavy snow closed State Highway 7 between Springs Junction and the Hanmer Springs turnoff from Friday afternoon to 11.30am Saturday, catching out more than 40 people who were left stranded for the night.
    With the Lewis Pass Motel fully booked, locals opened their doors to unprepared travellers who would have had no other option but to spend a cool night in their vehicles.

  8. From what I’ve seen so far – I think this winter will have record snows in the Sierras in CA. Just a hunch, but no real data to back it up. Just from past drought data – it’s due…

  9. “That has experts concerned, because the summer of 1997 ushered in the strongest El Niño in the modern record.”

    I have pointed this out elsewhere but look at this Nimbus graph

    According to this site http://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm we had very strong El-Nino events in 1982/83 and 1997/98.

    2002/03 and 2009/10 were moderate events.

    Thus in the last 17 – 18 years we had the biggest El-Nino event followed by 2 moderate events with another possibly on the horizon.

    Alarmists love El-Nino’s because they cause a spike in atmospheric temperatures but each one results in a significant increase in Earth’s radiation to space – check the Nimbus web site.

    Then check the graph on the second site listed – we appear to be on the down slope with respect to El-Nino peaks !

    The intensity increased over the 20th century to the peak in 1997/98 and now it appears to be waning.

    Also there were 5 strong El-Nino’s in 40 years and none since 1997/98 event – 17 years of the pause !

    Where to from now ?

  10. In the years since 1997, (and 2004-05) we in Southern Cal should have been building reservoirs .
    By now we should have been known as “The Land of Reservoirs”.
    But no. No, sorry, too logical, and that will simply never do…..

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