Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Will it Rain in California this Winter?


High on my list of: THINGS THAT COULD GO VERY WRONG, is the drought in the west coast. The three year run of below average rain has already had a big toll. Agricultural production is way off, fires are burning in all of the affected states, and there has been some curbs on water consumption by individuals. But there has been no real crisis as of yet as the major reservoirs are not completely dry. My question is:


What if there is another year of below average rainfall?


 Over the past six months there has been some evidence that a normal rainfall pattern was coming to Cali this fall. But as of today, the forecast of fall/winter rain is now in doubt.

The folks at NOAA (and a lot of other scientific types) believe that Pacific Coast rain is driven by the El Nino/La Nina cycles in the Pacific ocean. When there are La Nina conditions rainfall is low (yellow) during El Nino conditions rainfall is higher (blue).



el Nin0


The west coast drought is now in its third year. It’s no coincidence that there has been no El Ninos during this period:



Earlier this year there was a water temperature “anomaly” that lead a few weather folks to predict that a “Super El Nino” was coming to Cali. More charts:


Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 4.01.03 PM

This was a very big anomaly ‘bump’.  The media picked up on it:




But the bump went away, and with it went the expectation for a strong El Nino (lots of rain). NOAA has kept up its forecast of an El Nino this fall/winter. However, as of today NOAA downgraded the outlook (Link):






Clearly there has been an El Nino head-fake this year. It’s now more probable that Pacific waters remain in neutral condition for the next six months. If we don’t get an El Nino, the West Coast will likely see below average precipitation for another year. Another year of drought would mean that some large population areas will have real water problems (rationing). The consequences to agriculture, industry, tourism and wildfires will be multiples of what they are this year.


#1) El Nino increases the potential for rain in the West, it also reduces the probability of Atlantic hurricanes (the prevailing El Nino winds shear off the tops of the big storms). NOAA has a very benign outlook for the 2014 hurricane season. That forecast is (was) supported by the 80% chance of an El Nin0. The NOAA forecast:


2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook: Summary

NOAA’s updated 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook indicates that a below-normal season is likely. The outlook calls for a 70% chance of a below-normal season, a 25% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 5% chance of an above-normal season.


#2) I’m no weather expert – I read what the scientists are saying, and I watch the weekly numbers.










  1. NOAA is woefully underfunded and outdated. Bad choice for references.

    Climatologists are your best bet today for future estimates, and while they all don’t quite agree on exact weather patterns, they are far better than NOAA and meteorologists.

    My opinion, only from my experience in following weather patterns.

  2. This is off-topic but, I thought I’d pass it along in case it interested you as a story to pursue. I had an hour-long conversation today with a guy I knew back in my investment days who works in a retirement plan management firm.

    He tells me there is a trend developing of older retirees running out of money due to ZIRP and not enough savings….and now having to tap their middle-aged kids for funds to help with living expenses whether it be at home or in assisted/nursing facilities.

    My friend feels this may have a big impact on all kinds of discretionary spending of middle-aged people. Both he and his wife are professionally employed and make a nice living but have a 55k nut to put their two pre-teen kids through a private school year. That on top of the usual living costs we all have, and the fact his wife’s Dad has enough money for 1 more year in assisted living means they’ll be chipping in soon for him which leaves no $$ for second homes at the beach, high end cars, upscale vacations, etc. He and his business partners hear similar stories from their clients.

    Clearly the elderly are not in a place to go back to work, so once their money is gone —it’s gone. And it becomes an ongoing financial strain on the demographic that is in peak earning years (or on the Feds). Anyway you look at it, the horizon is pretty cloudy, isn’t it?

    • Poor outlook indeed, M Thatcher. But your story brings to mind the fact that millions of people without any extra monies for years, the low middle class, has been going through this for generations. This causes them to look at the upper class and frown when complain about something they have been living for ages.

      The government has been looking at Wall Street and saying things are getting better because the market is up! IN reality, a larger percent of poorer, less well off folks have been drowning, because they are not in the market, and will never be because they have no money.

      • The fed sacrificed the savers for the debtpushers and symbol pumpers. Their is no doubt this policy has killed the senior whom for the last 40 years was told to go to fixed income when nearing retirement. They have caused more issues than fixed. Hot money just found rivers to float down while the middle class, seniors, savers and the prudent..

  3. Bruce,

    Good to see you writing again. You were always moving around on subjects which made for good reading.
    As a lifetime Californian, a waterman and weather freak I can give you my take on El Nino. Surfers have to know the weather, waves, wind, currents etc. we live for it. We have had dry El Nino years, it doesn’t always bring the rains promised. I hope I eat my words but I believe we will not get much rain this year. The Ocean is really warm right now on the west coast, a great year for fishing and surf. 64 degree temps at Monterey buoy the other day which is about 3 degrees warmer than normal.

    I believe the NOAA is still best information and I use it a lot. The imagery available is much better than other sources. I tend to believe water men when it comes to the ocean more than the casual weather observer, we are tuned into it more than most. You can see El Nino retreating here. You can go back and look at date from days, months and years ago.

    The real issue here is why Gov. Brown is clueless to the developing story, he is almost banking on rain this year. Their should be no green lawns in Los Angeles, there should be no green lawns in commercial and industrial areas. This guy is clueless, looking to help illegal immigrants instead of concentrating on what if the rain doesn’t come. The Central Valley will be devastated and it will make great depression and the dust bowl a walk in the park. The sheer number of people makes it so. Could you imagine displacing 15 million people out of California, Is a 4 million dollar house in Bel Air worth anything without water. Real Estate will collapse if it happens. In the 77 drought, we had less than 20 million people here, with 40 million now this drought will be epic and could cause huge global and national implications. We grow the fruits, veggies and nuts of America. You want inflation, its coming fast if this lasts.

    I have stopped looking for a second home in gold country, without water it’s a waste of money to buy. We live in an uncertain world and water is cherished everywhere but here in the US. Civilizations have died in the southwest, I sure hope it rains. I pray for it. Mother nature though, she is pissed at all the lazy Americans whom plunder her body for the sake of nothing..The reservoirs, ground water and soil are parched and running dry. The 8th largest economy in the world needs water….I’m now looking for a second home in the columbia river basin area. Call it a hedge….

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