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Wednesday, January 29, 2014 11:19 AM

California Water Synopsis: Water Woes Just Beginning or About to End? Good News for California?

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Leaving aside religious debates on global warming, UC Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram says California water woes could be just beginning.

As 2013 came to a close, the media dutifully reported that the year had been the driest in California since records began to be kept in the 1840s. UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram didn’t think the news stories captured the seriousness of the situation.

“This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,” says Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary science and geography.

“These extremely dry years are very rare,” she says.

But soon, perhaps, they won’t be as rare as they used to be. The state is facing its third drought year in a row, and Ingram wouldn’t be surprised if that dry stretch continues.

The NewsCenter spoke to Ingram about the lessons to be drawn from her research as California heads into what could be its worst drought in half a millennium.

Q: California is in its third dry year in a row. How long could that continue?

A: If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.

The late 1930s to the early 1950s were when a lot of our dams and aqueducts were built, and those were wetter decades. I think there’s an assumption that we’ll go back to that, and that’s not necessarily the case. We might be heading into a drier period now. It’s hard for us to predict, but that’s a possibility, especially with global warming.
Magic Words

With that, Ingram, just mentioned the unmagic words "global warming". Is that a contrary indicator?


Here is another one: Ingram is the author of The West without Water What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow.

Typically, such books mark extreme sentiment and the end of such trends. 

Hundred Years of Dry

Want a third contrary indicator?

If so, I have one: Ecocentric, "all things green from capital hill" reports Hundred Years of Dry: How California’s Drought Could Get Much, Much Worse.

Good News Coming?

I delayed commenting on the California water crisis recently, rather expecting something like this January 28, 2014 report: El Nino May Return as Models Signal Warming of Pacific Ocean.
An El Nino weather pattern, which can parch Australia and parts of Asia while bringing rains to South America, may occur in the coming months as the Pacific Ocean warms, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

Most climate models suggest the tropical Pacific will warm through the southern autumn and winter, the bureau said in a statement today. Some models predict this warming may approach El Nino thresholds by early winter, it said. Australia’s autumn runs from March to May and winter is from June to August.

El Ninos, which are caused by the warming of the Pacific, affect weather worldwide and can roil agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. An El Nino trend is likely to develop this year, Gavin Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said this month. It’s been almost five years since the last event, which typically occurs every two to seven years, according to Indonesia’s Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

“Less spring rainfall for the east coast would be the major concern” for Australia, said Paul Deane, an analyst at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Melbourne. “It increases the chance that we’re not going to get trend wheat yields, that would be one of the risks. The other one would be on livestock, where you’d have lower pasture growth.”
OK But What About California?

That's a good question.

Wikipedia has this to say about El Niño conditions in North America.

"Winters, during the El Niño effect, are warmer and drier than average in the Northwest, northern Midwest, and northern Mideast United States, so those regions experience reduced snowfalls. Meanwhile, significantly wetter winters are present in northwest Mexico and the southwest United States, including central and southern California, while both cooler and wetter than average winters in northeast Mexico and the southeast United States."

Personally Speaking

Living in Illinois, Northwest of Chicago, I certainly can use less snow and less cold. We have had numerous days of negative temperatures this month, coupled with plenty of snow.


Global Warning

My global "warning" about global "warming" follows.

Cyclically-speaking, I tend to believe another El Niño effect is on the way. If so, it will bring relief to Southern California.

Thus, short-term I suspect Lynn Ingram is off the mark. Books and hysteria mark tops and bottoms. Besides, we have strongly presented viewpoints about pending cyclical changes.

However, Ingram could easily be correct on a long-term basis.

Either way, none of this has anything to do with global warming. For a detailed explanation, please see Europe Dumps Global Warming Efforts; Good Idea?


The California Weather Blog has an interesting article some inquiring minds may wish to read: Ridiculously Resilient Ridge continues to shatter records, but pattern shift may be approaching

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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