El Niño: The Disaster We Pray For?

The brown plants of the MVHS Sprouts garden, once a bright green, droop dejectedly, having been exposed to the sun for one too many days. These plants crave the refreshing taste of rain, as do the residents of the school they reside on.


The MV Sprouts garden near the D-building (photo: Bhavna Sud)


For the past four years, California has been in a state of extreme drought. Signs advertising slogans such as  “Brown is the new green” decorate communities around California in an attempt to conserve water. As the KQED Science website states, “Last winter ended up among the driest on record, exacerbated by record-high temperatures.” These dry conditions have persisted from 2011 up until now, causing many to be frustrated with the lack of rain. As sophomore Shaurya Srivastava explains, “I changed what I do with water at home […] taking shorter showers, using less water to wash my hands […] changing our backyard to complete concrete.” These actions are all in an effort to conserve water.


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This slogan stands near the entrance of the Seven Springs Community in Cupertino, encouraging residents to reduce water usage. (photo: Bhavna Sud)


However, there is still possible relief from these dry conditions. Many look to the upcoming El Niño weather trend as an end to California’s dry years. 


The National Ocean Service describes El Niño as “The large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures”. As sea temperatures warm in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean due to a lack of western winds, the probability of thunderstorms increases as the warm air rises. In addition, wind directions are redirected towards the west coast. In effect, California will be at a much higher probability of receiving a high rainfall.


As Srivastava says, “I feel we need all that water back to return back to a normal lifestyle”.  Srivastava, who has taken steps to conserve water at home, feels he would be positively affected by El Niño. In addition, he explains that he looks forward to the snow El Niño will bring. Indeed, the snow and rain that El Niño brings may help restore spirit back to California,
and its residents.


Of a survey conducted with 30 Monta Vista students, 60% say they enthusiastically await El Niño, while only 13% view it negatively. In a world filled with dirt and heat, rain is welcomed. In fact, 22% of students say that they think El Niño will affect their life significantly, a number that reflects the excitement that El Niño brings.


This excitement does have the facts to back it up – there is no arguing that this El Niño will be powerful. Scientists at NOAA have reported that the water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean average 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the September average.


But with these extreme temperatures comes a possible danger. As senior Neeharika Kadavakolanu explains, “El Niño “can cause a lot of destruction, especially because I’m hearing that it’s going to be powerful…I don’t think I could say I’d be looking forward to a hurricane”. This thought brings up a concern that people do not usually associate with El Niño – the demolition it will cause. In fact, there will likely be a similar intensity of  mudslides and flooding that was experienced in the El Niño of 1988, which left California devastated with the damage it caused.


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The flooding that occurred in Northern California during 1988’s El Niño (Wikimedia/Dave Gatley)


However, there is one possible benefit that could outweigh any negative of El Niño. With so much expected rain, the question inevitably comes up- will El Niño help the drought? When senior Michelle Wang was asked what effect she thought this El Niño would have on the drought, she replied, “There will be an impact. But not significant enough to say the drought is over”. Like many Monta Vista students, she hopes the coming rain will help the drought, but realizes the fact that nothing can solve the drought completely.


Kadavakolanu presents a similar view. As she describes, “It will bring a lot of water to us, so it could help a little, but I feel we are in a pretty bad state and need to still be conscious of our water usage…I don’t think one hurricane will make the drought go away”. It’s clear that El Niño is not a solution to the problem, as nothing can so quickly solve the drought completely. However, it’s definitely a start.


In the end, there is hope that plants around California will perk up again, lawns will regain their green color, and California residents will look up at the sky in delight, looking up to the rain that is soon to come. For now, we just have to wait and see.