Henry Fountain, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Less than a year after one of the strongest El Niños on record, forecasters see an increasing possibility that another will begin later this year.
There is no word yet on how strong a new El Niño might be, but even a mild one could affect weather patterns around the world. Among the potential effects are wetter conditions across the southern United States, including Southern California; a drier Midwest; and drought in parts of Africa, Asia and South America.
An El Niño can also influence global temperatures that are already rising because of greenhouse gas emissions. The strong El Niño of 2015-16 contributed to those years’ being the two warmest on record.
An El Niño occurs when warm water in the equatorial Pacific shifts, creating an immense warm zone in the central and eastern Pacific. This adds heat and moisture to the air, releasing energy that affects the high-altitude winds known as jet streams that circle the planet.
Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rain storms this winter have swelled water in Lake Sonoma to near-record levels, submerging once-dry boat ramps, repeatedly flooding the dockside marina and banishing the bath tub rings that for years were a telltale sign of the state’s prolonged and withering drought.
Only in the El Niño winter of 1995 did the reservoir in northwestern Sonoma County — the North Bay’s largest, created behind Warm Springs Dam in 1982 — rise higher than it did early this week, when it topped 125 percent of its capacity, with enough water to cover 300,000 football fields 1-foot-deep. The bountiful supply is more than twice the volume of water held in the lake in November 2014, amid the five-year drought that forced conservation of drinking water and cut into recreational opportunities for boaters and others.
The outlook now could hardly be more different.
With torrents of runoff coming into Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, the Russian River’s smaller reservoir to the north, dam managers are now cranking up their releases to preserve room for additional storms. Another front is expected to arrive Wednesday night.
“We’re releasing a lot of water like we’re supposed to — we need to keep space open for the next big storm,” said Mike Dillabough, chief of Operations and Readiness division for the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco Division. “But we’re told it’s burgeoning on a record year.”
Read more at: Wet winter banishes Northern California drought, fills North Bay reservoirs | The Press Democrat
Justin Gillis, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by 15 to 20 percent, scientists said on Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up.
Even though the findings suggest that the drought is primarily a consequence of natural climate variability, the scientists added that the likelihood of any drought becoming acute is rising because of climate change. The odds of California suffering droughts at the far end of the scale, like the current one that began in 2012, have roughly doubled over the past century, they said.
“This would be a drought no matter what,” said A. Park Williams, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the lead author of a paper published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “It would be a fairly bad drought no matter what. But it’s definitely made worse by global warming.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also reported Thursday that global temperatures in July had been the hottest for any month since record-keeping began in 1880, and that the first seven months of 2015 had also been the hottest such period ever. Heat waves on several continents this summer have killed thousands of people.
Read more at: California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say – The New York Times
Don’t count on El Niño to end California’s historic drought. That’s the warning from one of California’s top water officials.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said El Niño could soak Los Angeles and miss Northern California altogether.
“Don’t count on El Niño,” said Marcus. “If we get an El Niño, worry about flooding and property damage, loss of life and all that.”
Marcus worries Northern Californians will back off their record-setting conservation because they keep hearing El Niño is coming to the rescue.
“We’ll take the water if it comes,” said Marcus. “I just don’t want folks to think they don’t have to conserve because El Niño will save us, or to not understand that a strong El Niño has a downside.”
Marquez says conservation remains the key. Fortunately, Californians exceeded the state’s water-saving targets in June. Some customers cut their consumption by more than 40 percent. She predicts the July statistics will be even better “because people get it, and their water agencies are helping them.”
Still, Marquez is optimistic Californians will weather this drought whether El Niño delivers or not. People just need to keep conserving.
“This is not your garden variety drought — not your mother’s drought, not your grandmother’s drought,” warns Marcus. “This is not only the drought of the century, this could be the drought of many millennia.”
Source: Don’t Count On El Niño, Rain Could Miss Northern California Altogether
Bill Lindelof, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
While nobody is saying the four-year drought will soon be over, a federal report indicates that an El Niño weather pattern is gaining in strength – making the chances better that this winter will be a wet one.
“If you are a gambler, this is giving you some information in terms of what the seasonal rainfall might be,” said Tom Di Liberto, meteorologist for the federal Climate Prediction Center. “But with weather there is no guarantee. El Niño is only one of many things that could impact California’s rainy season.”
With all that said, Di Liberto said that the development of a strong El Niño is good news in terms of rainfall.A strong El Niño such as the one developing this year is usually associated with powerful winter storms, much like the very wet winter of 1997-98 when flooding and landslides occurred across broad stretches of Northern California.
In March, forecasters declared a weak El Niño had developed. On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced El Niño is strengthening.
Specifically, forecasters believe that there is a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through next winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and around an 80 percent chance it will last into early spring 2016.
In its report, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center noted that sea surface temperatures are warming, a sign that the El Niño weather pattern is strengthening. While El Niño is no guarantee the four-year drought will be broken, robust El Niños often bring strong winter storms.
“Often, when we have a strong El Niño, you tend to see above-average precipitation across parts of California,” Di Liberto said. “That is good. It’s been very, very dry in California over the last four years. It’s important to monitor to see whether we continue to see a strengthening El Niño.”
El Niño is a large-scale ocean-atmosphere phenomenon linked to the warming of the sea surface in the central and east central equatorial Pacific Ocean. An El Niño is detected by satellites and buoys.
“We will have to see what happens as we go forward but what we see now in the Pacific Ocean and the way the (computer) models are predicting it, we are expecting a strong (El Niño) event as we get into the late fall and winter,” Di Liberto said.
Source: Strong El Nino weather pattern spurs hope of drenching California winter | The Sacramento Bee
Jason Samenow, THE WASHINGTON POST
El Nino is here, strengthening, and the buzz is growing that it could become a “big one” by the fall or winter. The global consequences of a powerhouse El Nino would be enormous. But just how likely is that? Both computer model and human forecasters suggest it’s a very real possibility, at least a 50-50 one. Computer models are particularly aggressive in their forecasts. Five ways a strong El Nino could affect our weather
The models forecasts compiled by the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society, based at Columbia University, on average predict a strong event by the fall.
The Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) notes its computer model forecasts, on average, call for a very strong event.
Very strong or “super El Nino” events fall at the most intense end of the El Nino spectrum, which starts at weak and then steps up through moderate and strong levels. Only two events in modern records have ever achieved “very strong” intensity were the events in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, which was the strongest on record. The 1997-1998 event is well-known for contributing to torrents of rain in California, leading to $550 million in damages.
(Note that El Nino events earn their strength designations according to how much warmer than normal ocean temperatures are in a section of the east central tropical Pacific, known as Nino region 3.4. A weak event has ocean temperatures 0.5-0.9 C warmer than average, a moderate event 1.0-1.4 C warmer than average, a strong event 1.5-1.9 C warmer than average and very strong more than 2 C above average.)
Some forecasters view the models with skepticism. Last year at this time, many models were predicting a weak to moderate El Nino event for the fall which failed to materialize.
But others feel the models are onto something, pointing out that this year, unlike last year, El Nino is already firmly established and on the cusp of moderate strength.
Read more at: Models and experts lean toward strong El Nino forecast for the fall – The Washington Post
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County once again got straight-As on the American Lung Association’s latest air quality report card, which also cited California’s prolonged drought as a factor in fouling the state’s skies.
For the second year in a row, the county went without a single day of ozone or particle pollution exceeding federal standards, according to State of the Air 2015, the lung association’s annual report released Wednesday. Much of the credit can go to the breezy weather that typically blows away bad air.
Only three other coastal counties — Mendocino, Humboldt and Monterey — matched that perfect score, while Lake County came close with a single day of high ozone pollution, just as it did in last year’s report.
Read more via: Sonoma County gets high marks for good air | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County residents who live in rural places prone to flooding and those in urban areas who are unable to afford protection against rising heat will be among those who suffer the most if the extreme conditions predicted to come with climate change materialize as expected, county officials said Wednesday.
The stark message headlined a day-long conference at Sonoma State University about adapting to the world’s changing climate and the increasingly unpredictable weather it generates.
The impact of more wildfires, rising sea levels, heavier periods of rainfall and longer dry spells will be widespread, scientists and public officials said Wednesday, affecting everything from the cost and availability of food to water supply, wildlife habitat and public safety.
The most vulnerable residents in Sonoma County are expected to be those living along the lower Russian River, where flooding would be more frequent; those who live in coastal communities or low-lying areas subject to rising ocean tides; and disadvantaged urban neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma Valley and elsewhere, where air conditioning is rare and older, under-insulated homes would offer little defense against extreme heat, said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin.
“We need in the future to find out how we can help these communities adapt and survive,” she said.
Gorin’s comments kicked off a forum focused on climate adaptation at the local level, a first-of-its kind gathering in the county of scientists, conservationists, government planners, policymakers and others, organizers said.
Read more via Forum: Climate change to heighten flood, fire threat | The Press Democrat.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On the surface, Lake Mendocino appears to have plenty of water, especially when compared with the near-record low levels that turned most of the lake into a mudflat last year. But the lake’s water level already has begun a steady decline that has farmers and water officials concerned it could again shrink to near empty by the end of this fourth year of drought.
“Everybody’s watching it,” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones said.
Unless significant rain falls this spring, state regulators are likely to repeat last year’s unprecedented curtailment of hundreds of water rights held by farmers and others along the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg.
The state already has curtailed water rights to some Sacramento River tributaries and notified Russian River water users they could be next. State officials also have extended mandated water restrictions for all domestic uses in California.
“I expect they’ll be seeking curtailments again” on the upper Russian River, said Alfred White, a viticulturist and member of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, which holds Mendocino County’s right to 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino.
Lake Mendocino appeared headed for normal water levels following early winter storms, but then the rain tapered off, followed by the end of a regulatory effort to conserve that water.
The water level began dropping in mid-February, just after the expiration of a state-issued variance that temporarily reduced the minimum in-stream flows in the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg. The flows, aimed largely at preserving fish, are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency, except when there’s a risk of flooding.
Read more via Lake Mendocino shrinking again | The Press Democrat.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“Unprecedented changes” that have warmed the ocean off the west coast of North America may portend a dramatic decline in the biological productivity of coastal waters, explaining recent strandings of emaciated sea lion pups and a mass die-off that began last fall of small seabirds called Cassin’s auklets.
That’s the word from fishery experts and ecologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who say populations of tiny organisms at the base of the marine food web already have diminished and could take a toll on everything from salmon to seals because of especially intense variability in regional weather patterns.
Scientists remain in “wait and see” mode, but, “Our guess is the primary productivity of zooplankton and phytoplankton will probably be reduced this year,” and perhaps even longer, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.
A shift in atmospheric winds and the flow of unusually warm waters south from the Gulf of Alaska have raised ocean surface temperatures between 2 to 6 degrees along a band of Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico, according to Nate Mantua, leader of the landscape ecology team at the science center’s Santa Cruz facility.
“Right now, the ocean is very warm, and we have lots of indicators pointing to low productivity and low availability of some of the more normal prey items for things like seabirds and marine mammals, including seals and sea lions,” he said.