El Niño is underperforming. And I'm worried.

This is a weather weenie rant.

It's January 19, and Southern California is (still) dry as a bone. To date, Los Angeles has received a measly 3.75" of rain since October 1. For reference - the 30-year average is 5.94" to-date. That puts us at about 63% of normal. This dryness is not restricted simply to Los Angeles; here's a map (as of this morning) showing the percent-of-average-to-date precipitation for the state:

You can see that some parts of the state are running about 100-120% of normal (that's good!). Other parts are running well below normal (that's bad!). The problem is that January is our wettest month. If we don't get the rain now, our chances start to run out. 

We were told (promised, even!) that El Niño would bring a "deluge" of rain. Some people called it a Godzilla El Niño that was going to deliver us from drought and soak the state all winter in warm, tropical-fed rains. None of that has come to pass. (And, to be frank, none of it should ever have been expected to come to pass. The media reporting on this has been wildly irresponsible)

This week it's raining in Northern California. A lot. It's a good thing; a very good thing. But, this is what happens in winter - it rains. There is not a whole ton of evidence that El Niño is fueling any of the current storms in the northern 2/3 of the state. The jet stream is very zonal right now, sending powerful atmospheric rivers into the northern half of the state. Maybe this is El Niño-driven. It might be. The problem is that none of those storms are making it south, leaving LA and parts of Southern California in a very very dry pattern. The other problem is that the storms are relatively cold, and zonal. This also doesn't jive at all with what we *thought* we knew about El Niño.

I don't want to pretend like I or any of us really have any idea what's going on here. We don't. We don't have an extensive historical record of El Niño events that are this strong (n=5). A lot of the long-range climate models are still suggesting a very wet February and March for the southern third of the state. But, as I mentioned above, we are running out of time.

The medium-range global models keep LA and points south in a very dry pattern for at least 10 more days. That brings us to the end of January. With only 3.75" of rain in the books we will be looking at an almost 3.5" deficit by the end of the month. Far from the 200% totals we were promised/expected/hoping for at the beginning of the season. Heck, we're not even keeping pace with the "average". 

The smart money is still on a wet winter. I want to stress this. Everything we know about El Niño (not much), suggests it will rain, a lot, in Southern California. Sometimes all it takes is a few week-long storms to completely soak us. And, the statistics bear out a strong El Niño effect on California precipitation.

Maybe it's just delayed. Maybe it will never happen. The moral of this story is: stop listening to the media, and stop listening to media-hungry "climate scientists" that say, with definite confidence, that we know it will rain a lot this winter!  

We're still in a drought. And El Niño, so far, has not rescued us.


Mika Tosca1 Comment