Josh Willis: “Donde esta el niño??”

January 8, 2016

This is the first clip from the 15 interviews I conducted at the American Geophysical Union Conference last month in San Francisco.

I had not had a sit-down with my friend, Oceanographer Josh Willis, in a while, so was delighted that he made time to chat about El Nino, Ocean heating, and comedy.

Josh predicted the beginning of steady, El Nino influenced rain events that Southern California has begun to see this month.


If you have any friends in Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen roughly four bazillion photos of the rain in the past week. Because it’s been raining in L.A. Yes, that’s a big deal for the typically dry city, and for the state, which has endured four years of punishing drought. But does this mean that the drought is over?

Nope. Far from it.

But first the good news. The recent heavy rains were sparked by a ferocious El Niño, a streak of warm ocean that warms the air above it, making it more buoyant and more likely to lift condensation to levels at which clouds can form. This, in turn, drives rains onshore. The rainfall means some reservoirs in the state are filling up again, after spending last year as pathetic shadows of themselves, mere puddles in the mud.

Folsom Lake, a reservoir made famous nationally last year due to pictures of cracked earth where water should have been, has gained 28.5 feet of water height in just one month of wet weather. The state’s six largest reservoirs now hold between 22 and 53 percent of their historical averages in late December, which is good news, according to Frank Gehrke, who oversees snow surveys for California’s Department of Water Resources.

“There is a good chance that if everything goes right over the next four months we could end up with good reservoir recovery,” Gehrke told National Geographic. “We need much better than average snowpack this year for complete reservoir recovery, and so far we are encouraged.”


Meanwhile, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration clearly shows that neither California nor the rest of the West is out of the thick of the drought yet. As of the agency’s last reading, on December 29, 18.7 percent of the United States is still in the midst of “moderate to severe” drought, with much of that area clustered west of the Rockies.




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