Parched California disappointed as El Nino fails to deliver rain
Little drought relief in California, Nevada, and upcoming dry La Nina will just make things worse
This is why Buzz Blankenship worked all those long, lonely hours driving a rig: so he could retire early, and, a couple of times a week, set up his blue-and-white beach chair and his blue-and-white beach umbrella on the shore of Lake Mead.
Except the shore shouldn't be anywhere near here. A couple of years ago, Blankenship's chair would have been on the bottom of the lake.
"We'd be in a hundred some feet of water right now," Blankenship says. "The shoreline's three-quarter of a mile down from where it was before."
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Every year, the shore recedes. So every year, Blankenship has to move his chair closer to the middle of the lake.
He expected this year would be different. A massive El Nino — possibly the biggest in generations — was supposed to bring much-needed drought relief to Southern California and Nevada. But on Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared El Nino was over. Blankenship is still waiting for the rain.
"There is no El Nino," Blankenship says, smiling. "They lied to us!"
Predictions of 'Godzilla' El Nino
"This is the Godzilla El Nino," Patzert told CBC News in 2015. "This potentially could be the El Nino of our generation."
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"OK, I have to come clean here," Patzert says, standing on the same spot from which he made this prediction 10 months earlier. Patzert admits that the "Godzilla" turned out to be more of a gecko. While northern California did see more El Nino-related rainfall, southern California remained dry. From October 2015 to the beginning of June, downtown Los Angeles received about two centimetres less rain than last year.
"What a disappointment all right; I almost had to go into the witness protection program," Patzert says, laughing. "But let's be fair here. If we look across the planet, the impact was immense."
So what happened to all that rain? In North America, much of it went north.
Rain went elsewhere
"As the storms moved across the Pacific aiming for the southern part of the United States, essentially a great high-pressure system built over the American Southwest and detoured all of those storms into northern California, Washington [and] Oregon," Patzert says.
Those areas, he said, 'stole' much of the rain intended for Southern California and Nevada. El Nino did bring massive storms, he says. But to other regions, like Asia.
"More than 60 million people across the planet were impacted," Patzert says. "Economies of entire regions were depressed. But in Southern California the rain never showed."
That's pretty clear at Hoover Dam, the largest reservoir in the U.S.
Rose Davis, a spokesperson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which oversees the distribution of water from Hoover Dam, points to the stone cliffs that ring Lake Mead. Stretching across them are several white lines that look like bathtub rings. Those are the high-water marks, achieved in the late 1990s.
Rings show high-water level
That's because the lake supplies water to 30 million people in three states.
"If Lake Mead continues to drop, it's possible we could declare a shortage on the river, which means that Nevada and Arizona would take cuts to their water allocation," Davis says.
And it may cause yet another serious problem.
Hydro generation affected
Along the sides of Hoover Dam are massive intake towers that suck water into the turbines to generate electricity. Most of that electricity heads to California.
"With the water this low, it creates less pressure," Davis says. "And if there's less pressure to push the turbines, we're able to generate less electricity. Right now we've gone about halfway capacity because the lake is so low."
And it's going to drop lower. Next winter, experts predict a new weather pattern will hit: La Nina.
"El Nino's are often followed by what I call 'the cool sibling of El Nino,' known as La Nina," Patzert says. "The impacts are almost 180 degrees what we expect from El Nino. So in La Nina, for the American West and the American Southwest, it's usually what I call the diva of drought."
Drought... on top of drought? Just when Blankenship thought things couldn't get much worse. He points to a series of buoys about 100 metres from the shore.
"The shoreline will be out to the buoys in two years because it just keeps going down that much," he says.
The next El Nino could be as much as seven years away. Blankenship says he'll just keep praying for rain, as he keeps moving closer and closer to the middle of the lake.
- An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Hoover Dam is the largest reservoir in the world. In fact, it is the largest reservoir in the U.S.Jun 13, 2016 12:55 PM ET