Wet or dry this winter? So far, no clue in the ocean

The Fresno BeeSeptember 10, 2013 

Betting on a wet or dry winter this year? Don't look for El Niño or La Niña to give you an edge. It's La Nada out there in the Pacific Ocean.

El Niño and La Niña are all about the shallow-water temperature in the Pacific around the equator. Niño means warmer than usual — raising odds of a wet winter in California. Niña means cooler — a hint that it might be dry.

After two arid winters years and a brutal summer of groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley, I hear from a lot farmers who want some clue about the winter to come. They're nervous, and they have good reason. A third dry winter might devastate some farmers who are just getting by this year.

The California Department of Water Resources last week announced that everyone should be prepared for another dry year, just in case. Around the state, reservoirs are dropping, and nobody knows if there will be a wet or dry winter.

The Pacific isn't giving up any secrets on the subject. Scientists say the water is neither warm nor cool. Which means it's just a coin flip, unless things change soon.

If you want more detail, check out Jan Null's website. Null is a private meteorologist in the Bay Area. He has been tracking El Niño and La Niña for many years.

Will the ocean remain stuck in neutral this year? Federal forecasters with NOAA say it looks like neutral conditions will remain for the 2013-14 winter.

Fire season has drama, but not big numbers

Last month, misguided headlines announced 2013 as a sensationally big fire season around the country — some called it the worst season in a decade.

As the Rim fire burns in California, I've heard the statement repeated on national television news. They're just wrong.

The national fire season has been filled with drama, but it's not the biggest in a decade. Check it on the National Interagency Fire Center website.

Total fires and acres burned are both well below the 10-year average. At this rate, the season won't even match last year.

National Public Radio got it right on Aug. 15 with a story titled: "2013 wildfire season proving to be more mild than wild."

That was two days before the sprawling Rim fire started. The Rim is 254,685 acres so far. It's expensive — pushing $90 million in firefighting costs.

California, indeed, is having a bad fire year, according to Cal Fire. But California hasn't changed the national numbers in a big way.

At the same time, it is still a truly dramatic wildfire year.

The Rim fire is one of the biggest California wildfires on record, and it is burning partially in Yosemite. That's dramatic.

In Arizona, 19 firefighters tragically died in a fierce wildfire. Homeowners have been forced to flee fires in many areas this year.

But, unless there's a lot more burning in the next several weeks, 2013 will not go down nationally as the biggest wildfire season in a decade — far from it.


Author Bill McKibben, who is an award-winning writer and a climate activist, will speak Saturday at Fresno City College as part of his latest book tour.

The free event starts at 7 p.m. in the Old Administration Building Auditorium, and it is part of the Beth Ann Harnish Memorial Lecture Series. His new book, titled "Oil and Honey," focuses on the personal and global fight for sustainability on the planet.

McKibben is the author of more than a dozen books about the environment. He won the 2013 Sophie Prize in Norway and the 2013 Gandhi Peace Prize.

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