Feb 17 2014
We can see some dust clouds in the distance. That could be the US Cavalry coming to save us (El Niño) , or it could be El Niño’s unwelcome cousin, La Niña coming to spend a few years visiting Southern California. Are we willing to bet the farm on this one? Tonight on KUSI-TV in San Diego, the weatherman John Coleman showed the chart of world ocean currents that shows La Niña forming…bad news for Southern California.
El Niño \ ‘el ne nyo noun [spanish] \ 1: The Christ Child 2: the name given by Peruvian sailors to a seasonal, warm southward-moving current along the Peruvian coast <la corriente del niño> 3: name given to the occasional return of unusually warm water in the normally cold water [upwelling] region along the Peruvian coast, disrupting local fish and bird populations 4: name given to a Pacific basin-wide increase in both sea surface temperatures in the central and/or eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and in sea level atmospheric pressure in the western Pacific (Southern Oscillation) 5: used interchangeably with ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) which describes the basin-wide changes in air-sea interaction in the equatorial Pacific region 6: ENSO warm event synonym warm event antonym La Niña \ [Spanish] \ the young girl; cold event; ENSO cold event; non-El Niño year; anti-El Niño or anti-ENSO (pejorative).
Those of us in in search of water from the sky will welcome El Niño to break the drought. The experts have been telling us we have a 75% chance it will happen next winter. La Niña is definitely not welcome, and may be around the corner.
Before we sit back and wait comfortably for the rains to come, like the US Cavalry in a Western movie charging over the hill, bugles blaring to rescue us from the grips of the drought, perhaps we should look at history. Remember, the experts also tell us that wet centuries are followed by dry centuries. Blasted history…it’s such a nuisance! Take a look at this graph: http://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm
We’ve had “strong” El Niños in 1957, then eight years later 1965, seven years after that 1972, followed by one ten years later in 1982, then 1997. The last “moderate” El Niño was in 2009. A common sense look at the stats tells us that about seven years elapses between strong ones, and we do need a strong one to fill the reservoirs. Similar to a weather person telling us, during a daily weather forecast, the percent chance of precipitation, we are looking at maybe 2015, maybe 2016, maybe later.
The question: Is it worth the risk to hope for an El Niño, or should we prudently prepare for the possibility the Oceanic Niño Index may be off by a few years. Las Vegas odds makers likely don’t have this on their boards, but chances are if they did they would consider the odds high (50-1?) we will see an El Niño next winter. The water authorities are literally sitting at the poker table with all of their chips bet on a 75% chance, subject to the vagaries of ocean currents.
Why not take a more conservative approach. If it rains, great….but if it doesn’t, it is going to get very uncomfortable for water policy makers. So let’s get started on direct and indirect potable recycling by clearing the legislative hurdles and gathering up the financing methods. And stretch what water we have left in the reservoirs as long as we can by raising the price to get the attention of the water users.
So, if John Coleman is right tonight, that dust cloud we see over the horizon is that bad one, La Niña, not the US Cavalry in the the form of El Niño.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”