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Can the “Godzilla El Nino” Make a Dent on the Drought?


Mar_Blog1_El_Nino_2016The weather phenomenon widely known as “El Niño” is well underway on the West Coast of the United States, and if sensational news outlets across the country are to be believed, it’s nearly fixed the drought in a few short months.

But can slightly above-average rainfall and snowfall in isolated areas around California counteract years of drought and the wasting of valuable drinking water and resources? Not quite. Let’s break down the meteorological events around California in relation to the ongoing drought crisis.

Since the beginning of 2016, the Sierra Nevadas have seen nearly 3 feet of snowfall in areas crucial to drinking water repletion. A series of storms that have hit the southern regions of the United States have sent journalists into a frenzy, reporting that the singular flooding that took place in Los Angeles and the scattered rain that briefly awoke slumbering, decimated rivers along California’s parched and dying southern tip are cause for celebration.

Climatologist Bill Patzert coined the current ocean-atmosphere event “Godzilla El Niño” in an interview to Public Radio International due to this El Niño’s potential to unleash strong changes in temperature and harsh amounts of precipitation. However, despite what a click bait headline would have you believe, a startling strong El Niño is no match for a prolonged shift in the meteorological landscape of the country’s largest state. The rain and snowfall is simply a drop in the bucket.

While it’s true that many aquifers, especially in Northern California, are being temporarily filled, El Niño can usually only account for approximately 7% of the water supply in a year in that it occurs, according to Patzert, and an El Niño of this magnitude only happens every 15 to 20 years.

Snow hydrologist Tom Painter, during the same interview with PRI, reiterated the seriousness of the drought even among such increases of precipitation and the need to find long-term solutions for the issue.

The rain and snow that El Niño brings can be “hugely beneficial for recharging the aquifers, for getting the ground water back toward where we need it,” he admitted, “But we’ve got a long way to go. We need a lot of precipitation to bring us back not only for the groundwater, but also for the reservoirs and the ecosystems themselves.”

The population of California has more than quadrupled in the past 50 years. The primary reason for the drought, other than climate change, is the tragic lack of urgency among government agencies and the general public in updating infrastructure and accommodating for the realities of non-renewable resources.

Painter warns: “people forget that half of this drought is too many people using too much water in a semi-arid environment. But the good news is we’ve developed a lot of conservation habits here during this drought and people should not forget that is not temporary. That is the new lifestyle or we’ll be talking about drought forever.”

While the drought continues, it’s important for families to adopt conservation habits and to adjust to the notion of changing lifestyle habits to preserve the climate. Consider replacing your water-sucking grass lawn with rock landscaping, and skip the weekly carwash. Cut down on bottled water waste by purchasing refillable glass water bottles and only fill up when necessary.

The drought may eventually relent, but stay ahead of disaster by adopting simple life changes to preserve our most precious resource.

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