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The Potential Effects of El Niño

With California’s drought encroaching upon its fifth year, many communities, including Marin County, have been desperately awaiting a winter with heavy rains. As winter approaches, it appears that this wish might be granted in the form of El Niño.

El Niño is a weather event that brings heavy rain to the West Coast as a result of unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has the potential to bring massive amounts of rain to the Bay Area and potentially replenish the Sierra Nevada’s dwindling snowpack, which is reported to be at an all-time low, measuring at just 17 percent of normal levels, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials.

But will El Niño occur, and if it does, will it be powerful enough to knock California out of its severe drought? The answer: possibly. Most meteorologists state that there is a “good possibility” of an El Niño occurring. While measuring the power of a long-term weather system is a difficult task, scientists predict that El Niño could have the power of the 1997-98 weather system that brought massive amounts of rainfall to California. The downside to such a sudden surge of rain are the possibilities of subsequent mud slides, flooding and power outages, all of which are current concerns to homeowners in California. Because of these concerns, state officials encourage residents to create emergency plans and stock their homes with supplies to combat long-term power outages and flooding.

However, while the rainfall has the potential to be significant, scientists suggest it would take an extremely massive storm to bring California out of its drought. Even then, the possible El Niño will leave California in a much less severe drought, providing the state with a good foundation for restoring water levels.

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