Could El Niño help bust the California drought?

California Water Use Fell 13.5 Percent in April Amid Drought
California Water Use Fell 13.5 Percent in April Amid Drought


With El Niño being a major player in the demise of the Texas drought, the question is will the same phenomenon help funnel heavy rain into drought-stricken California.

El Niño occurs when ocean water temperatures climb above average across the central and eastern Pacific, centered around the equator.

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Ben Noll, "The warmer sea surface water strengthens the storm track over the Pacific Ocean and across the southern United States, especially during the winter, spring and autumn months of the year."

The storm track during the summer is generally weak and disrupted by high pressure off the Pacific
coast of North America.

How stormy the pattern becomes moving forward into the winter is generally associated with the strength of El Niño or how warm the tropical Pacific waters become.

This spring, the pattern has contributed to rounds of heavy rain in Texas to the point of not only breaking the drought, but also causing destructive and deadly flooding.

Earlier in May, the pattern also helped to funnel some moisture into California, but with exponentially much less impact when compared to Texas and the southern Plains.

Some episodes of rain can occur in California over the summer, but these would not have major and long-lasting impact on the drought. A few such episodes can occur during the first 10 days or so of June.

If El Niño is going to have significant impact on California, it will likely be during the winter.

El Niño began during the late winter and early spring of 2015 but was rather weak. On average, an El Niño lasts nine to 12 months.

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Mark Paquette, "There is uncertainty about how long El Niño will last and when it will peak."

There is some indication that the current El Niño pattern will strengthen and will peak sometime in the autumn of 2015.

"If this is the case, then California has a good chance at being pretty wet for the upcoming winter," Paquette said. "Conversely, if El Niño peaks at moderate level or weakens by early fall, it becomes more dicey in terms of storms and rainfall for California."

The El Niño of the winter of 1997-98 was one of the strongest on record and delivered storm after storm to California. The storms unloaded 20-30 inches of rain in California with yards of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

Another variable is where the storm track takes aim. Sometimes the parade of storms focuses along the northern part of the Pacific coast.

Drought conditions have been building in Washington and Oregon in recent months. A trend which is expected to worsen through the summer and could lead to a rough wildfire season.

Because of the uncertainty of the strength of El Niño, as well as the rainy season storm track months from now, people should not count on a wet winter to wipe out drought in California or building drought in Oregon and Washington. Keep checking back with for updates on the drought status and any episodes of beneficial rain.

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