Governor Pegs Another Year of Drought Measures to El Niño

Monday, November 16, 2015

OK, El Niño, it’s up to you.

Governor Jerry Brown issued a new executive order (pdf) Friday that extends to November 1, 2016, the drought restrictions he announced last April after declaring a state of emergency three months earlier. But the extension doesn’t kick in if the four-year drought is deemed over by January 31.

The governor did not mention El Niño is his order, but scientists agree a “strong” and “mature” one has already arrived and could start a “conveyor belt” of storms that would drench California beginning in January and last into March. Or not.

Weather and climate experts have been careful for months to point out that the presence of an El Niño doesn’t guarantee rain for California. But as the condition developed in the past few weeks, skeptical media stories about historical precedents have been replaced by tales of impending water-logged disasters.

Four months ago, meteorologist Dan Satterfield wrote at the American Geophysical Union’s blog, “This El Nino is almost certainly going to be different from 1997 and 1982, with the oceans world-wide at record warmth, and that large region of very warm water in the Eastern Pacific. How will this change our El Nino winter? Will California get rain anyhow?”

Last week, climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told NBC News, rather definitively, that there “will be a series of storms like a conveyor belt—almost like a convoy. . . . It's going to be a mess . . . when these great rains come. There's nothing to hold the water and we are expecting debris, mud, water to come pouring out of the mountains.”

But even in a world of uncertainty, very few observers are predicting that even a healthy dose of rain from El Niño is going to prevent California from having a fifth year of drought. State chief hydrologist Maury Roos told the Los Angeles Times he is among the skeptics: “You would have to have much above-average precipitation.”

The executive order would extend restrictions on urban water use. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) would continue to mete out water reductions based on the state’s goal of 25%. By and large, water agencies complied with the restrictions and the state reduced its overall usage 28.1%.

SWRCB Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said the executive order will give the board more flexibility to reduce the requirements if robust precipitation in the mountains yields a decent snowpack and reservoirs are recharged. “We just have to see where we are. No one can predict the weather,” she said, although Snapple “Real Fact” #912 says that meteorologists claim they are accurate 85% of the time.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Water Cutbacks Likely to Be Extended Next Year (by Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese, Sacramento Bee)

Barring Miracle, Water Cutbacks to Last into Fall 2016 (by Sammy Roth, Palm Springs Desert Sun)

Mandate on California Water Cuts Slated to Continue if Drought Persists (by Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times)

Extreme El Niño: Drought-Stricken California in the Crosshairs of Wild Weather (by Erik Ortiz, NBC News)

Why Using El Nino to Forecast the Winter Is Risky (by Dan Satterfield, American Geophysical Union blog)

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