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El Niño Blamed For Weather Chaos – But California Sees An Upside

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Oliver Milman, The Guardian

Boomtime for skiing and fishing as the periodical weather phenomenon brings rain and snow – but California’s drought is far from over, say experts

The El Niño climate phenomenon has been blamed for fuelling a spate of recent natural disasters around the world, from flooding in northern England and Paraguay to bushfires in Australia to storms in Texas. But, for many people in California, the current El Niño has been eagerly anticipated.

The state, which is in the grip of a four-year-long drought, received a welcome dose of rain and snow in December. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about 30% of California’s water, now measures above average for this time of year – a stark turnaround from April, when it measured just 5% of the long-term average.

Many Californians hope that a strengthening El Niño signal during January and February – the state’s rainiest months – will bring precipitation that will help ease the worst drought in 1,200 years. However, experts have warned that El Niño is unlikely to be a drought breaker, with water likely to run off the parched land, even risking mudslides in some places.

“El Niño has got a lot of attention. There are a substantial number of Californians who believe that El Niño is like the cowboy in the white hat who comes to the rescue of someone in peril,” said Greg Webber, executive director of California Urban Water Conservation Council.

“But a single El Niño event will not overcome all of the drought. Even an event of historical magnitude will not refill the aquifers that have been substantially depleted.”

Michelle L’Heureux, climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations climate prediction center, said El Niño brings a 50% probability of above-average rainfall.

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