We lived in southern California during the last two big El Niños and they are indeed doozies. Torrential storms slam into the state one after another. Roads flood. Houses slide down hills. And reservoirs fill up. The crucial question is, will the storms hit far enough north to replenish parched lakes and reservoirs? The answer is probably yes. The Sierras are already experiencing unusual wet weather. A storm just dumped four inches of hail in Donner Pass. The Colorado Rockies had an unusually wet June. The New Mexico drought is over. Clearly, the weather is changing.
You know how that climate guy was calling the coming El Niño, now taking shape in the Pacific, a “Godzilla El Niño” a couple weeks ago? Well now more experts are weighing in saying it’s most definitely going to get the official categorization of a “strong” event by the end of this month.
Southern California rain is helpful. Rain in northern California is what matters. That water flows to the Sacramento Delta then is sent south to Central Valley agriculture and the gaping maw of southern California.
The El Niño hitting the mountains of the north is critical because California’s vast waterworks rely on rain and snow from the Sierra to supply farms and cities. By contrast, much of the rain that falls in Southern California ends up in the ocean.
The area north of San Francisco, where California’s largest reservoirs — Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — sit, has an equal chance of a dry or wet winter.
That could change if El Niño continues to muscle up, enabling storms to elbow into the north. That’s what happened during the two biggest El Niños on record, in 1982-83 and 1997-98.