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Executive Summary for October 8th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Oct. 8, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Could the Drought Ruin Halloween?

The severe drought is gumming up many aspects of normal life across California. Now it could even disrupt Halloween.

Apparently water shortages have caused the state’s pumpkin crop to shrivel – quite literally. Lack of winter rains and recent warm temperatures caused California pumpkins to ripen early, resulting in many to wither on the vine. Those that survived are small – often too small to fillet into that scary Jack o’lantern you were planning.

Halloween has become an important “holiday,” with Americans spending $7.4 billion in total on candy, costumes, decorations and whatever else is required to dress up and scare other people.

So some California farmers and retailers are getting ready by importing pumpkins from Oregon. Although that state is also having a drought, it hasn’t hit our northern neighbor bad enough to damage the pumpkins. Yet.

“We are expecting probably in the range of 40 to 50 pounders,” Bay Area farmer John Moore told CBS5 News.

There could be rain in the forecast for Halloween, at least for Southern California. A new long-range forecast by the National Weather Service indicates increased chances for above-normal precipitation in the south state for the balance of October. In Northern California, alas, it is more likely to be dry.

El Niño Still Cranking Up. But …

The hype is still building around the El Niño weather pattern that is likely to make the usual winter conditions very different across North America. Latest reports show El Niño is still likely to become one of the strongest ever recorded, again stirring hopes it will end the California drought.

That could happen. But it’s far from a sure outcome.

The clearest representation of this comes from a new explainer by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, aptly titled “Not What I Ordered: How El Niño is Like a Bad Bartender.”

The experts at NOAA look at historical El Niño’s events to suggest what is likely to happen this year. Not only that, they break it down by California hydrologic region, an exercise that is vital to understand this mythical climate pattern.

In short, as we have noted before, El Niño at best means a marginal increase in precipitation for California’s Northern Sierra Nevada, the region where snowfall is crucial to statewide water supplies. An average of six strong El Niño events increased precipitation in this region by only about 2 inches or less than 20 percent.

That marginal increase isn’t enough to end the drought.

Journalists, pundits and the public keep forgetting that a fundamental feature of El Niño is that it tends to intensify winter across the southern tier of the nation, and diminish it across the north. Because California spans such a wide area of longitude, it can experience both effects in a single El Niño event.

Just listen to the brains over at NOAA:

“The Western drought is entrenched,” they write. “It took years to get into the current situation; it will take more than one wet season to get out of it. Let’s hope that we put a big dent in the drought this year, but one season, and probably even one El Niño, is not a single magic bullet.”

Water from Alaska: Not Ready to Hatch

We took note recently of a company that claimed it was ready to take orders to deliver water to California in cargo ships from a lake near Sitka, Alaska. Turns out it’s not quite ready.

The idea seemed promising enough for Congresswoman Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, to invite the company to meet with water officials in Southern California. There was interest in the idea, but “nobody signed up,” said Terry Trapp, CEO of Alaska Bulk Water.

Apparently the idea is still “conceptual.”

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm but there’s also clearly a lot of work,” Trapp said. “We’re considering a lot of this as conceptual at this point with a lot of details to be worked out. But those who attended the meeting were very receptive to helping us come up with some solutions.”

A basic problem is economics. Can the water be delivered at an affordable price? Another is infrastructure. The state’s ports aren’t set up to receive shipments of drinking water. Pipes and storage tanks would have to be built. Which could upset the economics.

Top image: In this 2010 file photo, Elliott Cely, 2, of Portland, plays in a pumpkin patch at the Rasmussen Farms in Hood River, Ore. California farmers are importing pumpkins from Oregon this year because their own gourds have been shriveled by drought. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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