El Niño, Where Are You?

Californians have been eagerly, albeit somewhat nervously, awaiting El Niño, the weather pattern that brings winter rains to a state experiencing more than four years of drought. Here in Southern California, people early on got to work cleaning leaves and debris from their roof drains. Some purchased and installed rain barrels to capture and keep whatever drops eventually fall. They’ve stacked sandbags along low edges of their property. And they’ve turned off their outside sprinkler systems.

But where is the rain?

ladwp sprinklersEarlier this month there was a fairly decent downfall that got everyone’s hopes up. At our house, it told us that the leaking roof we had repaired a year ago had reopened in one spot and presented a new spot elsewhere. We called the roofer who offered to come before the next anticipated rainfall, and he did, coming hours before the storm was projected to get underway. We agreed to call him, one way or the other, to let him know whether his repairs had worked. But it didn’t rain that night. Nor since.

The forecast was revised to predict a heavy rain later in the week. Never happened. Now there’s no talk of rain anytime in the near future. There’s snow in the mountains that’s exciting skiers and water experts but nothing down here. It’s chilly, but the sun continues to shine.

Snow on the mountains

And the app on my smart phone continues to read:

“Chance of rain 0%.”




Waiting for El Niño? No, the PDO

“I think you should stop writing about the weather,” my in-house editor said recently. I know he’s right but I can’t help myself. As someone on KPCC, our local public radio station, remarked the other day, “Californians talk a lot about the weather.”

Back before everyone became consumed with the drought and the hoped-for coming rains of winter, morning walkers would frequently greet one another with, “Another beautiful day in Paradise.”To which, even if you felt their remark might be tempting fate, the only polite reply would be, “Mmm, yes.”

But now there’s a new weather change on the horizon and it involves something with the unwieldy name of Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO. According to a report by Southern California Public Radio’s Sanden Totten, new forecasts on the El Niño climate pattern indicate “it could be one of the strongest on record. And… it could deliver much needed rain to Southern California and possibly northern parts of the state, too.”But,” he notes, “El Niños are usually fleeting, lasting only a year or two.”

In contrast, he says, “Evidence is building that a longer-term climate pattern — one that might bring years of rainy winters – could be forming in the Pacific well north of the equatorial waters that give rise to El Niño.”

Nathan Mantua of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains that “the PDO has a warm phase and a cool phase, and each can last anywhere from a few years to decades.” He says “the PDO has been mostly in a cool phase since 1998, coinciding with some of California’s driest years on record.”

PDOTotten talked also to Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory “who thinks it’s this PDO pattern that is responsible in large part for the severe drought in the region. However, since January 2014, the PDO has been shifting into a warm mode. .and could be the drought-buster the state has been hoping for. Perhaps in the long term, rooting for a (warm) PDO…is probably the most important thing for California and the American West,” he said.

And then what will Californians talk about?

Graphic: JPL/NASA

More Drought Talk

Save The Drop Image EnglishOh, I know it’s boring if you live someplace where rain falls at reasonable intervals. But it’s all the talk around here. Just heard of another person who’s pulling up all of his lawn to install artificial turf. That’s plastic, isn’t it? Guess that guy in The Graduate was right: the future lies in plastic. And we all know where plastic comes from, don’t we? As someone once said to me, in explaining why some product or other cost so much, “It’s a petroleum product, you know.”

When Ed and I and our children were ricocheting back and forth from one coast to the other — 4.5 cross-country moves — we missed the last California drought. But friends told us about it at the time: how they would place a brick in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water per flush (now they’d buy pricey low-flush toilets), keep a bucket in the shower to catch used soapy water to pour on plants (now they’d invest in expensive gray-water systems), and of course not running the water when they brushed their teeth (today, electric tooth-cleaning systems minimize water use). A cartoon recently implied that the characters were not bothered by drought restrictions because they were Europeans – “We don’t shower as much as Americans.”

Two facts that I learned and have carried through life, both counter-intuitive, are that showers use less water than baths and that dishwashers use less water than hand-washing dishes. I have had arguments with people on these two topics, but here’s the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts confirming both assertions as they list water saving tips.

Our local Southern California Public Radio station had a piece about businesses that are suddenly profiting from this new interest in water conservation. After years of just getting by, a company that installs gray water systems can barely keep up with the telephone inquiries, and a nursery specializing in cactus and succulents sees its clientele surging from its former few aficionados to crowds of new devotees. And, of course, business is booming for landscape installation companies whose work seems to appear almost overnight. I drive by and ask myself, “When did they do that?”

Even without tackling major projects, the drought has the benefit of making us more aware of what a precious resource water is and how much more care we need to take about its use.

And for me, prone as I am to find things about which to feel guilty, all of the drought talk has left me with a whole range of new guilt outlets. Like: Is it true that it takes more than a gallon of water to grow just one almond? No, that statement has been disproved, although almond trees do require water year-round. Just like beef, which requires more than 106 gallons of water to produce one ounce of meat. Almonds with their shells, according to a Los Angeles Times report by Kyle Kim, require 48.6 gallons of water per ounce. The LA Times website also has a neat interactive graphic feature in which you can calculate the total “water footprint” of your meal, should you be so inclined.

Enough drought talk. Now I’ll concentrate on hoping for the return of El Niño and all the rains he might bring with him.

Drought. Really?

after stormDriving home, I heard the ping indicating a text message, and when I pulled up to the stoplight, read from a friend on the East Coast: “Wondering if you are safe and sound. The storms in LA are scary!” I pointed my phone straight ahead and sent her this picture. “What a beautiful day!” she wrote back.

And it was, at that point. The sky looked almost celestial. All that was missing was a trumpeting angel or two.

When I got home I wrote my friend that yes, at times the storm was scary. During the night before, the roaring winds and sheets of rain woke us. Our Great Dane Lotte — who, unlike all eight of her predecessors, never gets on the furniture – climbed up in bed with us. The next day gave us a cornucopia of weather patterns: rain, sunshine, more rain, more sunshine, dark menacing clouds, clear blue skies with puffy white clouds hanging over the mountaintops. California weather is nothing if not dramatic.

But we’re in a drought and will continue so for a long time, say government officials and water professionals, a fact that Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton finds annoying. “Highways have closed because of flooding. Cars have been hydroplaning and been swept off roads. Creeks are leaping their banks. The Los Angeles River has become a real river. That’s hardly a drought,” he wrote.

He chided officials for their doomsday talk and urged them to come up with a better definition for the current situation. “How about simply calling it a water shortage?” he wrote. He also challenged them to start moving on worthwhile projects to avoid future drought conditions. The voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond but, he’s told, it will take at least three years for projects to be selected and construction begun.

This drought thing has been going on for many years, and most people are doing their best to not waste water. It’s about time that politicians and special interest groups stop just talking about drought and start doing something about it.