El Niño is dead, scientists declared Thursday June 9th, 2016. It was 17 months old. The infamous climate pattern defined by warmer-than-average Pacific Ocean water is likely to be succeeded by its cooler kid sister, La Niña.
Developing from a small patch of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, this El Niño grew to among the largest ever recorded as it shaped weather around the world. In the U.S., it delivered much-needed rain and snow to parched California, but failed to end the state’s historic 5-year-old drought.
As of Thursday’s latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks the dry conditions, 83.9% of the state of California remains in drought. That’s a poor performance compared to the wetter winters strong El Niños often carry to southern parts of the state, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.
Still, the climate phenomenon provided some relief — it was just a matter of where. “In California, it’s all about location, location, location,” said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services in the state. Null graded El Niño with an impressive A- in the northern third of the state and a so-so C in the middle, but said it totally failed in Southern California.
A person strolls past rain puddles at Lake Balboa Park in Lake Balboa, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, after a series of El Nino-driven storms. The climate pattern is likely to be succeeded by its cooler kid sister, La Niña, scientists say.
Other parts of the West also didn’t fare well. The Colorado River basin, which stretches from Colorado to the Arizona/California border, is still reeling from a deep water deficit, and Lake Mead dropped to its lowest level ever in May, said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank in Oakland, Calif. That’s despite a decent snowpack in the Rockies this year, one of the main ways water is infused into the region, filling up reservoirs in the spring and summer.
In the long run, Gleick said, El Niño did more harm than good. “(El Niño) was not enough water to bail us out of the drought, but it was enough water to make many people believe, wrongly, that the drought has ended,” he said.
Attention now shifts to La Niña, the cooler opposite of El Niño, which sometimes has a nasty habit of prompting more hurricanes to develop during the newly opened Atlantic hurricane season, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
Climate scientists say La Niña will likely form as early as late summer, with a 75% chance of it sticking around during the fall and winter, including into the New Year, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
83.9% of California remains in a drought, with the worst of it in central and southern parts of the state. (Photo: U.S. Drought Monitor)
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