Be careful what you wish for

Coming El Nino could gently replenish overstressed aquifers in parched state – or it might ravage vulnerable infrastructure

The 1997-98 El Nino caused flooding along the Russian River in Northern California. This winter’s El Nino has the potential to be equally destructive. Dave Gatley / FEMA News Photo

The 1997-98 El Nino caused flooding along the Russian River in Northern California. This winter’s El Nino has the potential to be equally destructive. Dave Gatley / FEMA News Photo

When respected climatologists describe this winter’s warming of tropical Pacific waters as a Godzilla El Nino event, they might be onto something. The science fiction monster’s signature move is to emerge from the ocean and destroy structures built by hapless humans. Many of the necessary plot elements are in place for El Nino to similarly wreak havoc in the Golden State in the coming months, says an expert in climate extremes at the University of California, Irvine.

“California is in year four of a severe drought,” says Amir AghaKouchak, assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering at UCI. “Earthen infrastructure around the state is dried out to the point of cracking. If a sudden overabundance of water from El Nino rains gets in those cracks, vital dams, levees and roadways can fail.” Read more ...