Guest post by Steven Goddard
On the same day when President Obama and Prime Minister Brown separately warned of imminent economic catastrophe, the new US Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu issued a different catastrophe warning. The LA Times quoted him saying ““I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” he said. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” And, he added, “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going” either.“
This is a terrifying warning of drought, coming from a cabinet level official whom the LA Times describes as “not a climate scientist.” And perhaps a little surprising, since it was only two winters ago when the “world’s leading climate scientist” Dr. James Hansen, forecast a “Super El Niño” with severe flooding for California. Dr. Hansen has also warned of a return to wet El Niño conditions during the current year or so.
El Niño Impacts: Weaker In The Past, Stronger In The Future?
“What about the future of El Niño? According to NCAR senior scientist Kevin Trenberth, ENSO’s impacts may be enhanced by human-produced climate change. El Niños have been unusually frequent since the mid- 1970s.
El Niño is famous for bringing copious amounts of rain and snow to California. I have spent several El Niño winters in the Bay Area where Dr. Chu lives, including the big one in 1998 when the rain was nearly continuous for months. Living Redwood trees were sliding across Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz mountains. I remember a wonderful weekend in LA in February, 2005 during their second wettest winter on record when they received six inches of rain in three days. It didn’t stop pouring for five seconds the entire weekend. According to NOAA:
(LA 2005) had its 2nd wettest rainfall season since records began in 1877 and the wettest season in 121 years. Over 37 inches of rain (37.25) fell downtown, just failing to reach the record 38.18 inches set during the 1883-1884 rainfall season. Average wet season rainfall for LA is 15.14 inches, making the 2004-2005 season 246% wetter than the 1971-2000 normal.
Snowfall in the Sierras is also normally high during El Niño years. Below is a graph of Lake Tahoe snowfall from 1918-2008 – official data taken from here. Not much of a trend, except to note that the Dust Bowl in the 1930s was dry, as Steinbeck and the Okies observed.
From: this spreadsheet El Niño years bring lots of water to the cities, farms and reservoirs, and allow for periods of high agricultural productivity. So I am not sure what it is that we are supposed to be terrified of – famously dry La Niña years in California, or famously wet El Niño years caused by “global warming?” The official horror story morphs so fast, it is often difficult to keep up. Reading Steinbeck, one might get the impression that dry periods are part of the normal climate cycle in California, rather than a recent invention caused by the burning of fossil fuels. President Roosevelt said at the time – “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.“Heavy rain and snow is forecast for California today.
Perhaps we now have the “Chu Effect” working in concert with the Gore Effect?