El Niño Ambivalence

Over the last month or so while people here in Southern California are almost dying over anticipation of the predicted coming El Niño, I’ve slowly been more and more doubtful that it will bring us all the rain people think it will.

The last several years have featured a a ridge of high pressure during the winters that refuses to budge. Nicknamed by meteorologists as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, the RRR blocked all storms from coming into California which is what led us to the historic drought we find ourselves in.

Looking at the sea surface temperature anomolies shows that we are in an El Niño pattern and that it is the strongest one measured yet:

Sea Surface Temperature Anomolies

What is not part of the El Niño pattern, however, are the warm waters off the US and Canadian Pacific coast known as “The Blob”. That is global warming, and what is not known is what effect it will have to El Niño. And that is what has tempered my enthusiasm. Will the RRR beat El Niño and further exacerbate the drought? Is The Blob off our coast causing the RRR or did the RRR cause The Blob?

Yobo posted this post on Facebook that hypothesizes the RRR was actually caused by warm waters in the Western tropical Pacific and that El Niño has killed that off.

…there is considerable evidence that a fundamental driver of the Triple R’s longevity was the persistent warmth of the western tropical Pacific ocean (mentioned in the first section of this article). And that warmth is rapidly disappearing as El Niño strengthens rapidly. The take-home message here: a primary cause of the Triple R is no longer in place, and so it’s unlikely that we’ll see yet another winter of persistent anomalous ridging over the northeastern Pacific Ocean.

So I guess I’m a little less pessimistic, but I guess we’ll see what happens. I know in the near future, there is a ridge of high pressure that will set up over the West next week. The return of the RRR?

And if El Niño happens, what then? With the subtropical jet blasting towards Southern California, sure we get the rain, the mudslides. But all of that is tropical moisture meaning snow levels will probably be over 7,000 feet meaning the snowpack won’t be helped that much. But considering where our snowpack was this past April, it can’t be that much worse. I certainly hope that local water districts will have a better way of capturing the rain that might come down.

Just some thoughts I’ve had.