SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Brown grass, low reservoirs and worsening wildfires are undeniable signs of California’s worsening drought. New rainfall comparisons highlight just how thirsty the Golden State is, but rising ocean temperatures are giving climate experts hope for a wet winter.
The National Weather Service showcased those unsettling rainfall totals in an illustration to document the change in climate since July 2011, when California’s drought began.
The below graph shows San Francisco received a four year deficit of 31.51 inches of accumulated participation , or 133 percent of annual normal. Meanwhile, Livermore saw a deficit of 21.87 inches of rainfall and Santa Cruz a staggering 50.54 inches — 161 percent of the yearly average.
While California has received some rainfall from passing winter storms, particularly during the Bay Area’s “hella storm” last December, the overall number of sub-tropic “atmospheric rivers” responsible for those torrential downpours are well below average.
Instead, a stronger than usual high pressure ridge over the western U.S. continues to push storms to the north, creating long-term dry conditions.
But lately, climate experts are leaning into new El Nino data that shows rising Pacific Ocean surface temperatures.
An anomaly in the range of 1.5 to 3.5 degrees Celsius would be considered characteristic of an El Nino. The warmer and more widespread the water in the Pacific Ocean, the stronger the El Nino.
The temperature anomaly is presently 1.8 degrees Celsius, according to the National Weather Service. In July, scientists will compare the latest computer models for a better idea of what California’s winter may look like.
“Will El Nino bring above average rainfall this upcoming season?” the National Weather Service said. “History tells us *if* El Nino becomes strong or very strong by late fall or winter the chances for an above normal rainfall season over California increase.
Every single long-range computer forecast model used by meteorologists predicts a strong, or very strong El Nino for the entire globe this coming winter, the first time that’s happened since 1997.
“I think this is the most promising sign of a wet winter in California in nearly 20 years,” said KPIX 5 Meteorologist Paul Deanno.
While no one can ever perfectly predict climate, if a very strong El Nino sets up, California’s history shows in these years, we are in for not only a wet winter, but a devastating one with potentially billions of dollars of damage in flooding, breaches levees, wind damage, and death.
Even with that much rain, climatologists still say it would take multiple El Nino winters to officially end the drought.