El Niño Will Not Solve Drought Problem

Unfortunately, California’s water conservation efforts are going to have to extend into winter, possibly even spring; despite most Californians’ wishes, it predicted that the upcoming El Niño will be an unlikely solution to the state’s drought problem.

El Niño, which is caused by a reservoir of warm water in the Pacific that interferes with the atmospheric circulation, comes irregularly as a series of anomalies in global weather conditions (NOAA). This year, many Californians are hoping that included in these “anomalies” will be increased rainfall for the state. However, California climatologist Michael Anderson, during an official statement in August, warned such hopeful thinkers: “California cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions. Historical weather data shows us that at best, there is a 50/50 chance of having a wetter winter. Unfortunately, due to shifting climate patterns, we cannot even be that sure” (California Drought).

True to Anderson’s word, the statistic has decreased recently. According to the Precipitation Outlook maps (for December 2015- February 2016) provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the chances of Northern California having a wet winter this year are equal to the chances of it receiving below- or near-normal amounts of rain. Essentially, it’s a one in three, or thirty-three percent chance that there will be extra rainfall. Meanwhile, Central California has slightly higher chances at forty-percent, while Southern California has a moderately high probability: sixty-percent (NOAA). On average, however, California’s chances of receiving above-normal amounts of rain during the winter of 2015 are under fifty-percent as of October.

To make matters worse, most of California’s reservoir systems are centered in the northern areas, according to Ryan Sabalow of the Sacramento Bee. Because most of the precipitation that this El Niño is bringing is predicted to head south, it may cause property damage to the unprepared, rather than replenishing barren reservoirs. (Sacramento Bee).

This four-year old drought that California is currently plagued with has been displaying unprecedented intensity. In January 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the drought, and in his April 1st Executive orders, made it mandatory for towns and cities in California to immediately reduce their water usage by twenty-five-percent. The majority of Californians complied with the orders, but even so, there is no question in the fact that the drought is still very, very real, and that the fifth year of drought is looming in the horizon (California Drought). “What happens this winter is definitely going to be interesting,” Stanford climate scientist Daniel Swain said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “And it’s not entirely clear whether California wins or loses” (LA Times).