El Niño

After a long and taxing drought, El Nino forecasts are showing signs of much needed relief this winter, but what does it really mean for us in Northern California?


El Nino is a natural phenomenon characterized as prolonged warming of seawater in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Normally the trade winds regulate this warming, however during an El Nino the trade winds don’t come back and can in some cases reverse direction. This allows the warmer waters to spread eastward. As a result, weather patterns change across the world and in Western part of the US, that means an increase in temperatures as well as increases in precipitation that may average 40-50% wetter than normal. El Ninos occur every two to seven years. The last El Nino that caused severe changes in weather patterns across the world was in 1997.


“I don’t think people realize how disastrous the El Nino is going to be after the drought.” Leandra Steenkamp, Senior Psychology student at NDNU.


In 1997 California saw one of its most severe winters with continuous storms and record-breaking precipitation levels. For those of us who can remember that year, it very wet. So wet that thirty-five counties in California were declared disaster areas due to the damage caused by El Nino storms. Although the coastal and inland areas endured heavy rains, floods, and mudslides, the Sierra Mountains experienced record high snow levels. For those who enjoy their winter sports, this meant a phenomenal powder season.


Some people are skeptical about the El Nino predictions. “I fee that I personally don’t think that El Nino will be all that it has been built up to. Although there are changes in the environment during El Nino, there are changes in the environment all of the time. We focus on El Nino too much, instead of realizing that our environment and climate are changing constantly over periods of time.” Danieka Miramon, Junior Psychology student at NDNU.


When asked if EL Nino will be all its cracked up to be, another student states, “Hopefully yes, but no. Nature, I believe, will do its own thing and in the end will make itself ok again.” Cressy Tylavsky, Junior Graphic Design student at NDNU>


California is naturally a desert for the most part. It is only through man made irrigation that it has become an agriculture hub across the central valley, and in our wine growing regions. Throughout history California has seen many droughts, sometimes lasting for decades. When heavy rains occur after such long periods of very low levels of precipitation, floods and mudslides are inevitable. California’s water reserves are dependent upon the Sierra Mountains snow pack. As long as the air in the Sierras stays cold, there would be likely increased snow pack levels. El Nino this winter could help pull California back from the brink of this devastating drought. “Even though it will be disastrous, I’m hoping the snow will be good so I can spend every weekend at Dodge Ridge again.” States Steenkamp, Senior at NDNU.


Unfortunately, the current models are predicting otherwise. For now, the bulk of the storms and precipitation are aimed for the southern part of the US, with the heaviest being seen in South America. While the models are forecasting a warm wet winter into Spring for the North Western part of the United States and all of western Canada. This means that as of now, the snow season we’ve been hoping for may just have to keep up waiting. If you’re looking for deep powder days, you may have to plan your winter break in Japan since they had a record-breaking amount of winter snow last year.


IMAGE- El Nino, as of Aug, 31: The warmest areas are red. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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