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It's Not Just the Heat—It's the Lack of Humidity
Scott Lucas | Photo: Courtesy NOAA | June 5, 2014
New forecasts predict only a moderate El Niño—not enough to help break out drought—on top of the hottest spell ever.
A new forecast by scientists at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center indicates that you'd better start investing in bottled water and Alaskan real estate—because chances are that the Pacific Ocean surface warming coming this summer or fall won't be strong enough to send drought-busting rain our way. On top of that, California is hotter than it's ever been before.
First the dry.
Back in 1997, a major El Niño led to massive rainfalls in San Francisco—47.2 inches—and around the state. That raised hopes that an El Niño this year would break out of the spell that has left, at last count, almost 25% of the state in exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. California has received only half of its average rainfall this year.
An El Niño is a periodically-occurring warming of surface water temperatures in the Pacific that leads to increased rainfall along the west coast and in South America, as well as decreased rain in Asia and Australia. It's caused by a enormous east-to-west running perturbation called a Kelvin Wave that sucks colder water towards the bottom of the ocean. The stronger the wave, the warmer the surface. And this year's Kelvin is underwhelming. Mike Halpert, the acting director of the Climate Prediction Center was quoted today as saying, "We continue to be confident that an El Niño will develop. But maybe it's not looking like the '97-98 event that a few folks thought a few months ago."
And the bad climate news just keeps on coming. Over on the California Weather Blog, Daniel Swain writes "temperatures in California have consistently been at their highest levels in recorded history for at least the past 6 months." In fact, this winter was the warmest recorded in the last 119 years. Several recording stations around the state detected the earliest greater-than-100-degrees days ever, and April and May saw several intense heat waves.
The new information comes days after President Obama ordered cuts in carbon pollution from coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. Also worth reading is today's Ezra Klein piece on Vox about why he thinks America will fail to respond to climate change.