The 1997 El Nino event.
Even with a minor storm expected Wednesday and a major one moving through the state this Friday and Saturday, California's drought remains severe. February is on track to be well below average and the Sierra snowpack is near all-time lows. Our water situation is, to put it mildly, bad.
What could help us, though, is an El Nino system developing this summer in the Pacific Ocean. According to Weather West, the website of Stanford climate science Ph.D. student Daniel Swain, there are "compelling signs of a developing El Nino."
That's good news for dry people. El Nino is a periodic system of warmer-than-usual water in the Pacific Ocean. In 1997 and '98, an El Nino of up to four degree centigrade higher than normal led to one of the wettest years on record.
So what's the case for the mild optimism? According to Swain, scientists have found two indicators that an El Nino may be in the works: a buildup of warmer water below the surface of the West Pacific and a series of what are called "Kelvin waves"—which are low frequency waves that propagate from west to east that "slosh" that warm West Pacific water towards the east. The first in a series of these waves began in September, and the most recent wave, which "may be the strongest observed in the Pacific since the powerful 1997-1998 El Nino event," was detected in January.
It's far from a guarantee. But, Swain writes, "for now, I’m comfortable stating that El Nino conditions are becoming increasingly likely beginning this summer and continuing into next fall/winter."
You know what? That's good for us right now. Fingers crossed.