Since October of 2015 all of Southern California has been preparing for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), called an “El Niño, among the strongest on record.¹” Forecasts of torrential downpours, mudslides, and gail force winds caused every plucky young field correspondent to salivate with anticipation and every single-30-something to receive festively wrapped survival gear from concerned, out-of-state relatives. To date, Southern California is still roughly 2.5” shy of the avg. annual precipitation and my new flashlight is still shrink wrapped in its impenetrable casing somewhere above the fridge.
So What HAPPENED?
Well, let’s take a look at the recipe for a normal Pacific weather pattern:
First, you take the Earth, tilt it on an axis of about 23.0° and set it spinning.
Add a nice hot equator running through that HUGE patch of Pacific Ocean between the western coast of the Americas and the eastern coast of China and Australia.
Toss in a heaping handful of the Coriolis effect² and top the whole thing off with a strong dash of trade winds.
So the equator heats up, the world spins, heavy cold air from the polls gets sucked down to replace the light warm air around the Earth’s middle and POOF! you get a normal weather pattern.
What you also get is a pile-up of warm water off the coast China and I mean that literally. The surface of the ocean is normally about 1.5 feet higher and 45° F warmer in Indonesia than it is in Ecuador. All that extra water on one side of the ocean starts to compress and sink which slips under the deep ocean cold water and causes it to surface on the other side of the ocean.
During an El Niño year:
The trade winds become a little weaker, the deep ocean cold water isn’t being churned to the surface and there is nothing to hold back all that warm water so it starts to float back to the western side of the Pacific bring with it, much-needed rain for California.
October 15, 2015
NOAA issued their, U.S. Winter Outlook Report with a statement by, deputy director Mike Halpert forcasting, “A strong El Niño is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter”
October 23, 2015
A massive natural gas leak erupted from a storage well at the Aliso Canyon Oil Field (an oil and natural gas storage facility owned by SoCalGas) just north of the Porter Ranch neighborhood of the Los Angeles.
“It’s a mega-leak, one of the biggest ever recorded,” said the Environmental Defense Funds’s oil and gas director of California Timothy O’Conner. “The plume is about 1,000-feet high and several miles long.”
The latest article by The Los Angeles Times, estimates that the well “has sent 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — more greenhouse gas than 440,000 cars emit in a year. Because the surge of pollution is in the form of methane, it will have a more immediate heat-trapping effect on the atmosphere.” but have we already felt an environmental effect? Was the “Strongest El Niño on record” neutralized by a giant plume of heat trapping greenhouse gas?
The next few months will be critical
Critical for El Niño which still has a few more months to try and replenish some of California’s water supply, and critical for SoCalGas to fix their leak on schedule. I will keep up with any new information and post a thread of up dates. Maybe, the mild winter was just a slow start to a rainy spring.