Wet winter or continued drought: Clovis prepares for two weather extremes

By Diana Giraldodrought10

The weather is not giving California a break.

After a stressful summer due to the lack of water and residents conserving the little available, California could be receiving the big gulp it desperately needs.

The latest update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), states there is a 90 percent chance El Nino will continue through the winter and an 80 percent chance it will last until the early spring, said Gary Sanger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

The El Nino is a phenomenon where the normally cold water off the west coast of South America near Peru gets abnormally warm and the atmosphere above the water also warms which can change the pattern of the jet stream, the narrow air currents found in the atmosphere.

At this moment a strong high pressure system is over the coast off the United States which has kept the storm track away from California, Sanger said.

“If we get a strong El Nino that would shift the storm track over toward California,” Sanger continued.

But the forming of a strong to moderate El Nino does not indicate a wet winter for California.

“It (El Nino) is not exactly the ideal predictor of what the weather will be like in terms of rainfall,” Sanger said. “We want to make people understand that, yes it’s an encouraging sign but its only sign and there are no guarantees.”

In the past, California has experienced El Ninos that have produced abundant rainfall in Central California. Conversely, the state has also had El Ninos that have only produced normal or less than normal rainfall.

“The fact is that half moderate to strong El Ninos that last into winter do produce a wet winter and half do not,” explained Sean Boyd, a lecturer at Fresno State in the department of Geography and City and Regional Planning.

Boyd explained many Californians expect heavy rain because they remember the two particularly strong El Nino episodes in recent history, the 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Ninos, which produced much wetter than normal conditions all over California.

“What comes to mind are all those images of houses falling off the coast in Malibu, rivers running crazy, lots of rain and snow and what seemed like a major storm every other day,” Boyd said. “That is prominent in the memory of those who are old enough to remember and experience them but that is only two El Ninos.”

There is no way of predicting if the El Nino will or will not produce a wet winter.

The study of this phenomenon on a global scale only ranges about 50 years and in the past 65 years there have been four El Ninos—two of them led to a wet winter in California and the other two were dryer than average, Boyd said.

California will only know if it will be a wet winter around November/December or once it starts raining. Either way Clovis is prepared, said Luke Serpa, the city’s public utilities director.

“We have contingency plans for excessive precipitation and we also have contingency plans for continued drought,” Serpa said. “We just have to wait to see what happens this winter.”

If a wet winter is to come, the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District has an extended system in the Clovis area to manage flood waters.

“We also do some work during heavy storms clearing drains to make sure we minimize localized flooding,” Serpa said.

On a grander scale, Serpa said, there is an extensive reservoir capacity to capture any run off that may be coming down the rivers because the reservoirs have been drawn down to historic lows.

On the other hand, if the Central Valley experiences another below average wet season Serpa is confident Clovis has an abundant supply between the surface water, ground water and the city’s water banking agreement with the Fresno Irrigation District. Given all these sources, Serpa said water demand for next year and even another drought year would be met.

The National Weather Service encourages Californians to check with the weather service periodically for updates on the El Nino situation at www.weather.gov/hanford.

“It has the potential to be fairly healthy but things could change in the next few months,” Sanger said. “We are cautiously optimistic but we don’t want to get peoples hopes up too high and get them busted.”