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El Nino to La Nina: California stays dry, drought likely to intensify

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California may see drought worsen as El Nino gives way to La Nina.

It's February in California, but it's been impossible to tell. Warm weather and a lack of rain has disappointed many Californians who expected El Nino would bust the state's drought. Instead, the reestablishment of resilient weather patterns could mean the state's drought will intensify through the next year and likely beyond. Ironically, El Nino itself could be responsible for the dry spell.

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By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Catholic Online (
2/17/2016 (4 years ago)

Published in Green

Keywords: El Nino, La Nina, California, drought

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - California has enjoyed the El Nino weather, with the return of rain and snow across the state following four years of epic drought. However, since mid-January, the return of high pressure off the coast has brought hot, dry weather back to the state in spite of El Nino.

February is normally the wettest month for Los Angeles. Instead, this February, no rain has fallen on Los Angeles or San Diego. A brief storm hitting the state now looks to be all Southern California will get for the month. March is expected to be wetter.

El Nino typically shifts weather patterns, delivering rain to the state on a regular basis. Central and Southern California can receive weekly storms and on occasion, flooding. During past El Nino events, the storms have caused disaster in the state which is unaccustomed to so much rain.

The current El Nino is one of the strongest in recorded history and in mid-July it looked ready to begin in earnest, delivering an atmospheric river of rain to the state. But within the space of two days the atmospheric river went dry and was quickly followed by the return of a massive high pressure dome off the coast.

Known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, this dome of high pressure has deflected storms away from California for the past four years. The feature is normal during the summer months, but recently it has persisted for years. It finally diminished under the power of El Nino, yet now it seems to be returning and since mid-January, California has been deprived of moisture.

The El Nino is also responsible for the dry spell. Researchers think the current El Nino is so powerful it has shifted weather patterns even more than expected, sending storms even further north. This leaves Southern California dry and hot with temperatures in the high 80s.

Some storms have crossed the state, but nothing like planners feared. There have been no floods, no catastrophes. This is good news, but it also suggests California may quickly return to drought conditions.

Indeed, planners have warned that even if El Nino were to strike with full force, it could not possibly deliver enough rain and snow to bust the state's four-year drought.

It appears that now, the drought is returning, in spite of El Nino. And there's a risk of La Nina, which is the opposite of El Nino. La Nina years tend to follow El Ninos. A La Nina is the cooling of waters in the equatorial pacific. When this happens, drought conditions in California intensify.

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La Nina, combined with the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, could mean the state will promptly return to drought conditions and those conditions could persist for more than a year --several even.

California has enough water for the next year, but what happens next will be a mystery. For now, there are no plans to lift water restrictions across the state. Even with El Nino storms, none of the states reservoirs are back to normal levels, and it could take another year or even two, to replenish water supplies to normal levels.

Scientists suspect that global warming has a major role to play in the current boom-and-bust cycle for California. As the planet warms up, swings in weather become more frequent and extreme. It perfectly explains why Southern California is seeing temperatures in the mid 80s in February.

As the El Nino eventually dissipates, releasing its heat into the atmosphere, it will drive an extremely hot summer in the northern hemisphere. For Californians, this is unwelcome news.


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