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Fond farewell to El Nino, say hello to La Nina

Scientists warn of prolonged drought

Merdies Hayes OW Staff Writer | 4/22/2016, midnight
El Nino is weakening along the western portion of North America. Climatologists suggest that the end of the stormy weather ...

El Nino is weakening along the western portion of North America. Climatologists suggest that the end of the stormy weather phenomenon will only mean continuing drought in Southern California, despite the fact that the northern portion of the state witnessed its wettest winter in five years. Now comes “La Nina,” the atmospheric sibling to the “Little Boy,” which is expected to bring with her a much drier-than-normal weather pattern for the foreseeable future.

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a La Nina watch for the first time in four years. Scientists at NOAA and those at Columbia University said there is a 71 percent chance of La Nina conditions being present in the Pacific Ocean by November 2016, up from 57 percent one month ago.

“At this point, odds favor the development of La Nina by the fall,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “And should we see La Nina develop, below-normal precipitation would be favored next season in Central and Southern California.”

La Nina is characterized by ever-shifting trade winds and a cooling of sea surface temperatures along the equator off South America. This weather pattern typically follows the 20-year El Nino and it has quickly drawn the attention of state water regulators, who are working to come up with the latest plan for any and all easing of water restrictions or conservation targets (25-percent reduction) they imposed on California’s urban areas last June at the order of Gov. Jerry Brown. Practically all cities were forced to cut back on water use—and absorb increased utility bills—by targets ranging from 8 to 36 percent, depending on each city’s per capita water usage. Strict penalties were imposed on residential and commercial “water wasters” from Siskiyou County to the north down to San Diego County southward. Brown’s mandate worked, as Californians saved about 23.9 percent of water through February.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Board, said this month that, although reservoirs have filled up in may parts of Northern California, Los Angeles County, in particular, received only about half as much rainfall as its historic average. She said the state must accept the fact that this winter’s rainfall did little to ease local drought conditions.

“I think we need to adjust to recognize the reality that we are in,” Marcus said. “We must be mindful that we don’t know what next year is going to bring.”

Marcus cited Australia as a dire warning. Two decades ago, she explained, the so-called “Millennium Drought” hit the continent especially hard, causing major water shortages, crop failures and torrential wildfires.

That La Nina-inspired drought lasted for 17 years.

They’re looking into contingency plans on Capitol Hill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) this week commented on the progress of Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which includes enhanced legislative provisions to deliver more water to Southern California.

“The House is one step closer to passing yet another solution to our state’s water crisis,” McCarthy stated. “For years now our communities have faced devastating drought conditions that have been made worse by bad regulatory policy that lets more water out to the ocean than to communities whose livelihoods depend on it. The El Nino storms provided needed rain and snow this year, but regulators have idly let more than 75 percent of that water flush to the ocean instead of capturing it for our communities. This bill is a renewed opportunity to put the voice of our communities at the door of the White House.”