El Niño to the Rescue

Cole Sitar, Staff Writer

In the midst of the driest year in recorded California history, it is hard to imagine anything getting wet, but according to the National Weather Service, there is still a 50 percent chance that 2014 will be an extra wet El Niño year.

Miramonte AP Environmental Science teacher Barbara Denny said that “ The drought that California has been experiencing for the past year has been intense, and it is caused by a different mechanism than El Niño.” However, El Niño can bring about or extend similar dry spells in other parts of the United States.

Right now, there is a very large, high pressure area in the Pacific,” Denny said. “It blocks Pacific Storms and pushes rain farther north into Canada. The block may actually be related to the polar vortex in the south right now, but nobody is sure yet.”

The effects of the high-pressure zone, and the resulting drought in California, have been drastic. Most California cities, including San Francisco, have never recorded a drier year than 2013. Reservoirs statewide are already very low, and snowpack in the Sierras is 20 percent of the norm. In addition, both wild animals, such as the Coho Salmon, and domestic animals, like cattle, are threatened by the lack of moisture and low water levels.

Some Miramonte students are similarly affected, including junior Alex Eberle; “I normally go and ski in Tahoe almost every weekend during the winter, but this year I haven’t been up at all. There’s no snow and I don’t want to scratch my skis.”

“El Niño” is a warming of the ocean off the Pacific coast of South America which disrupts ocean currents, weather systems, and temperatures worldwide. It occurs every two to seven years, and can last anywhere between nine months and two years. Scientists from the National Weather Service are constantly monitoring temperatures in the Pacific Ocean to predict future El Niño cycles.  Right now the warning level for this year is at 50 percent.

During El Niño years, much of the world has bad weather; California, on the other hand, usually ends up receiving extra precipitation. This means more snow in the Sierras and more rain in Southern California. However, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest region of the West Coast sometimes get drier; like what we are currently experiencing.

“More rain would be very good for California right now,” Denny said. Although it wouldn’t make a difference until later this year, El Niño would hopefully put an end to the drought and bring some much needed water to our parched state.