Farm Progress

Will West see good winter without El Niño-La Niña?

September 11, 2016

2 Min Read

About this time last year when we were asked to brace ourselves for an epic El Niño, the likes never seen before. Implied in the forecast was California would float out of its drought and life would be hunky dory.

We know what happened. It rained enough to fill lakes Shasta, Oroville and Folsom, though this did not translate into significantly improved irrigation conditions for farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

And while snow fell in the mountains, runoff wasn't stored.

The waning of El Niño led the way to predictions of La Niña, the opposite condition in the Pacific Ocean where sea surface temperatures (SST) cool below normal due to weather pattern changes.

Some says La Niña may not appear at all, and it may actually lead to a better rainy season than if SST’s cool below normal.

A graphic from Golden Gate Weather Services illustrates this point. It suggests more normal conditions across the Pacific could mean near-normal rainfall for Central Valley farmers and above normal precipitation for the northern Sierra.

Even the federal government is backing away from its prediction of La Niña, as reported on Ocean cooling has apparently not coupled with atmospheric conditions to bring on La Niña, at least for this season.

What does it all mean?

One northern California rice farmer who recently spoke with me seems confident, based on his reading of the Old Farmers’ Almanac, that we’re due for the kind of winter we saw in the early 1970s and some in the 1980s. In those years, heavy rain and snow created ample water conditions for growers statewide.

But that was before extreme environmentalists and their attorneys began rewriting water law and policy that took water away from growers.

The same climate center that says we’re in for a more normal rainy season also reports that it’s never been hotter in recorded history.

Will the Old Farmers’ Almanac be spot on, or will the trends as recorded by continue? It is interesting that the steady rise in global temperatures started about the time we were all told to brace for the next ice age.

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