Newsbrief Archive

Water Currents News - December 2015

Drought Outlook for 2016: El Nino to Play a Major Role

There are many variables that influence weather patterns across the United Sates but one of the strongest predictors is El Nino, a regularly-occurring warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Areas closest to the Pacific Ocean are most affected by El Nino but this weather phenomenon also has significant global impacts, including those affecting the US.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 2015-16 El Nino, which began in March, is the strongest in 18 years and is continuing to intensify. It is expected to be one of most intense on record over the past 50 years.

Here are some of the projected implications:

Above-average rain and snow is predicted for central and southern California. While this will help alleviate drought conditions, it could also lead to flooding.  
Above-average temperatures are anticipated for much of the northern US, making for a milder winter. This could mean a lower snow pack in the west, with rain falling in the mountains instead of snow.

The long-range forecast calls for increased precipitation across the southern states with winter temperatures expected to be colder than normal, leading to more snow and ice, particularly in the Southeast.

An active jet stream could produce storms and severe weather across the southern states. This has the potential to produce a heightened tornado threat for the Gulf Coast and Florida. Dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest could intensify an already severe drought.

Drought impacts

According to NOAA’s seasonal drought outlook, improvement is expected in central and southern California by mid-winter and additional relief is possible in February and March. This will not, however, remove drought conditions, which have persisted over the past four years.

Experts have estimated that California would need to exceed its annual rainfall by 100-200 percent in order to eradicate the drought. This is not expected in 2015-16.

Drought conditions are expected to remain in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies and drought could develop in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas as well as the northern Great Lakes region.

Increased precipitation will likely lead to drought removal across some of the Southwest while improvement or removal is predicted in the southern Plains region.

In the Corn Belt, it is anticipated than dry conditions will persist, possibly threatening crop yields this summer.

Long-range implications

Some scientists are predicting that future generations could face a drought of epic proportions if current trends of global warming continue. In a recent report published by Science Advances, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, “under a ‘business-as-usual’ emission scenario, there's an 80 percent likelihood that at least one decades-long 'megadrought' will hit the southwestern and midwestern United States between 2050 and 2100.”

The solutions include a sustained reduction in greenhouse gases, effective water conservation programs and a significant decrease in water usage by the agriculture industry.

Utilities and other water organizations can all make a significant impact when it comes to mitigating a serious drought through their conservation, outreach, and educational programs.

For more information on how we can help aid you in your efforts, call us at 800-428-5837, email or visit