El Nino or El Fizzle?

This year’s boy child is looking considerably less robust than advertised just three months ago. From a typically excellent story by Rob Krier in the San Diego Union Tribune:

Anyone counting on El Niño to wipe out California’s drought this winter may be counting chickens long before they’ve hatched.

Long-range forecasters are less and less bullish about El Niño, a
global atmospheric condition that could bring extra precipitation to
San Diego County.

Most of them say the odds still slightly favor a wetter-than-normal
rainfall season in California, which could use a drenching after three
straight years of drought. But the fledgling El Niño is showing signs
of losing steam.

Gary Robbins, a science writer for the Orange County Register, had a chat about it with Bill Patzert, SoCal’s leading forecaster, who called this year’s boychild “El Fizzle.” Patzert told him, via email:

“At this time, it is a long shot for this El Nino to expand and
intensify into the fall and elevate the present weak to moderate El
Niño episode to a stronger event. For comparison, the
August 21, 1997, TOPEX/Poseidon image of the macho 1997-1998 El Nino is
included here. In size and intensity it dwarfs the present conditions.”

For the meteorologically challenged, Patzert sent along a couple of images from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellites he’s been working with for years.

Here’s the Pacific today, with a mild band of warming across the equator:


And here’s the Pacific back in the summer of 97-98, the last monster boychild:


It’s a real shame for Ventura County. Not only are we dangerously dry, but we actually now have the capacity to shore a great deal of water, to help through drought times…if it would every really rain.

Speaking of which, here’s the conclusion to an extremely thoughtful story about California water politics by Timm Herdt in the Ventura County Star, a week or so ago:

Something else that’s changed is the ability of Southern California
water agencies to store water. Because of that, they would be able to
get maximum benefit from a system capable of delivering more water
during wet years, even if it did not divert additional fresh water from
the delta during dry or normal rainfall years.

[Donald] Kendall notes that the Calleguas [Water District for Ventura County] has spent $9 million on a groundwater
storage project capable of holding 300,000 acre-feet of water, but it’s
never been more than one-third filled. “Now they’re telling us, ‘We
don’t have any winter water for you to store.’ ”

The bills being negotiated by the conference committee would create
a Delta Stewardship Council that would be empowered to make decisions
about new conveyance systems. The hope is to take such decisions out of
the realm of politics and into the realm of science instead.

Kendall said the only hope for a solution is a plan that does not reignite all the old wars.

“If they can come up with a plan that doesn’t smack of North-South
politics, I’ll be cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We’d be very happy.”

Herdt’s story was written before the collapse of negotiations in Sacramento. Legislators were trying to agree on a “Delta fix.” Unless the Governor calls a special session, it won’t happen this year. Sigh.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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