Every few years the world experiences an El Niño weather cycle, which ordinarily doesn’t amount to very much. There might be a little more rain in some places, or a little more heat in others, but for the most part it’s usually a non-event. But much to the joy of drought stricken California, this year’s El Niño promises to bring some relief to the water crisis in the Western US.
Sorry, did I say joy? I meant to say horror, because this thing is going to be a monster.
The strengthening El Niño in the Pacific Ocean has the potential to become one of the most powerful on record, as warming ocean waters surge toward the Americas, setting up a pattern that could bring once-in-a-generation storms this winter to drought-parched California.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that all computer models are predicting a strong El Niño to peak in the late fall or early winter. A host of observations have led scientists to conclude that “collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic features reflect a significant and strengthening El Niño.”
“This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.
Patzert said El Niño’s signal in the ocean “right now is stronger than it was in 1997,” the summer in which the most powerful El Niño on record developed.
“Everything now is going to the right way for El Niño,” Patzert said. “If this lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayhem.”
“This could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.
So on the plus side, the Western United States is going to get all of the rain and snow pack that it so desperately needs. When it’s all said and done though, the people living in this region are going to be begging for the rain to stop, as will many other populations across the planet.
Previous El Niño’s of this magnitude have caused flooding and landslides across the world. In 1997, Central Ecuador and Peru experienced 10 times their normal rainfall, which left a path of destruction across both countries. In other parts of the world, this weather pattern brings extreme drought, like the 1992 El Niño which caused one of the worst dry spells in African history, and affected over 100 million people. That same weather pattern managed to fuel Hurricane Andrew, which cost dozens of lives and $26.5 billion in damages. In many cases, it can even cause epidemics of Malaria, Dengue, and Rift Valley Fever.
And in the end, this could prove to be only a temporary break from the Western drought. There’s a good chance that what we’re really facing is a megadrought, which sometimes last for decades; in which case this weather pattern will only bring relief for the next year or two. Until then though, we’ll take what we can get, even if it’s way too much.