Now Playing

El Nino Is Coming to Save California. Or Destroy It. Hard to Say.

Fickle weather system says, "Oh, you want rain? I'll give you rain."


The good news is, we’ll be getting rain. The bad news is, it might be so much rain we don't know where to put it. Which means it will just put itself wherever it likes, being water and all. And that could get messy in a hurry.

In the midst of a four year drought, any suggestion of precipitation in California is a glorious thing. But the weather gods are fickle and cruel, so they’ve decided to give us deliverance in some of the weirdest possible ways. Stay with us on this one, because it’s all about sea temperatures: Back in spring we had “the blob,” a big patch of warm water thousands of miles across and 300 feet deep that hung out off our coast and microwaved incoming air, raising temperatures and melting all of our snow. The blob is a jerk.

Now the blob may have met its match in the form of our old frienemy, El Nino. El Nino is a lot like the blob, in that it’s a big, swirling mass of warm water in the Pacific, but El Nino respects our personal space, setting up shop far from California’s shores (the one brewing right now stretches from Alaska to Peru). Out there it creates a kind of weather boundary that pushes colder, wetter jet streams in our direction.

A strong El Nino will fix us up with storms big enough to overpower the blob and all of the other nefarious powers baking our state. Which is good. Unless of course those storms look anything like the freak July washout in Southern California last week that caused bridge-destroying flash floods, epic hail, and even snow.

Snow. In July. In Southern California. Imagine if the sun came up during that month in Alaska when the sun never comes up and you’ll be in the ballpark of how weird that is. El Nino may also increase the chances of hurricanes and (wait for it) drive more sharks closer to shore. Yes, our choice is between drought and a hurricane of sharks. Or moving inland, but who wants to deal with that?

Of course, no one can predict the future (even if that is, technically, a meteorologist's job). But this El Nino looks even bigger than the record-setting one in 1997. If it breaks the drought and spares us from a parched future riding shotgun with Imperator Furiousa, great. Get ready to batten down the hatches once summer ends, though, because there’s probably no easy way out of this one.



Have feedback? Email us at
Email Adam L Brinklow at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Adam L Brinklow on Twitter @AdamLBrinklow