How Will El Nino Affect California? Storms Are On Their Way, But It Won't Mean The End Of A Drought

After months of anticipation, El Niño is finally sending serious rain to California. But even the buckets of rain forecasted this week won't end the state's drought, as rumors of a potential fall visit from a dry La Niña have Californians holding fast to their slogan of conserve, conserve, conserve.

National Weather Service forecasts predicting rain from Monday to Friday are being cautiously celebrated by Californians, who dream of the day they can stop showering with a bucket set up to collect cold water run off. However, while the upcoming storms are much needed, they won't solve the state's 4-year drought and are expected to bring a new slew of problems with them.

Thanks to above average temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean — a phenomenon commonly referred to as El Niño — California could see upwards of 15 inches of rainfall across the entire state during the first two weeks of the new year, National Weather Service forecaster Johnny Powell told the Associated Press.

Southern California, which expects heavy rain to hit Tuesday, is forecasted to see up to 2 inches of rainfall along the coast and valley regions, with up to 4 inches predicted in the mountains, the Los Angeles Times has reported. In Northern California, Bay Area residents are bracing to receive anywhere between 1 and 3 inches of rain with upwards of 6 inches predicted for higher elevations, SF Gate has reported. Although forecasters have said rains may temporarily let up Friday, storms are expected to move over the state for the next 10 days at least.

The potential for flash flooding and mudslides remains high, especially in areas hit by wildfires last year, as El Niño-fueled storms dump some of the heaviest rains California will have seen this winter in just a matter of hours. The state's naturally mountainous topography makes it more susceptible to landslides, a common side effect of fast and heavy rainfall. A strong El Niño in 1982 saw landslides kill 30 people in the San Francisco region, CNBC reported last May. Another factor increasing the chances California will see damaging landslides this year are the 6,335 fires recorded by CAL Fire, which burned a total of 307,598 acres in 2015.

While urging residents to continue conservation efforts, the state's water agency is hoping El Niño-fueled rains will, at the very least, help bolster the state’s reservoirs, which saw a significant drop in water level due to an ongoing four-year drought.

"A strong El Niño does not guarantee an end to four years of drought conditions," California's Department of Water Resources said in a statement on El Niño released late last year. "Every winter seasons, Californians should both conserve water and prepare for floods."


Mounting predictions that a dry La Niña will follow on the heels of this El Niño have raised concerns Californians won’t see an end to their record drought this year. Called the sister of El Niño, a La Niña represents an irregular cooling of water in the Pacific Ocean and generally brings drier weather conditions. While experts can't say for certain if late 2016 or early 2017 will see a La Niña descend on the Pacific — weather is fickle that way — El Niños have, historically, most often been followed by their sister. For California, this could mean a quick return to dry conditions and below-average rain.

Simply put, keep your buckets close at hand Californians, because what El Niño gives, La Niña can take.