Jul 23, 2019 | Updated: 09:13 AM EDT

How Can The Pacific and a ‘Warm Blob’ Be the Cause of California’s Drought?

Apr 14, 2015 03:45 PM EDT


For several years now it has appeared that the climate in the West has been drastically changing. Naysayers might say that the illusion of "climate change" is all in our heads, but for those who had to ration water this past summer in California, the concept of climate change is certainly no longer a joke. But the conversation may not be entirely full of gloom and doom. In fact, thanks to our beloved Pacific Ocean and that nice coastal breeze that we love so dear, we may just see cooler temperatures after all, but we're not like to get more rain.

In a new study published this week in the Journal of Climate, researchers led by Thomas Delworth of the NOAA investigated the strong trade winds over the Pacific Ocean and found that their waxing and waning may be the cause of cooler-than-normal surface warming that has been happening in the West for the past 15 years. Though global warming has raised temperatures quite significantly, with last year being the hottest in official records, things on the West coast have stayed a bit cooler than researchers would expect. Now they think that may have something to do with the trade winds that prevail across the Pacific Ocean, bringing us the tides and even occasionally an El Niño season or two.

Looking at the variability of the Western climate systems, Delworth and his colleagues found that winds blowing from the east are important to the west coast in that they push warmer waters across the Pacific, and eventually subsurface allowing for cooler waters to rise in their place. This natural mechanism may not correct the global warming that the world will see, nor will it help with the drought that has afflicted California for years, but it may make the transition a bit more bearable by keeping surface temperatures cooler than in the Mid-West.

"We know there's a lot of natural variability in the climate systems" Delworth says. "It's not surprising, but it's important to understand mechanisms for this hiatus."

While the findings of the study may be hopeful in terms of cooler temps in the West, when it comes to the current state of the droughts, the hits just keep on coming. In fact Delworth and his team believe that as much as 92 percent of the dry conditions in the West can be traced back to these trade winds phenomena, and there doesn't appear to be signs of them ending anytime soon.

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