Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: A likely El Niño, but will it be Godzilla or El Fizzle?

Los Angeles February Rain

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The likelihood of an El Niño and a wet winter has increased to 78%, but that doesn't necessarily mean an end to drought. Scientists say they want more time before anyone jumps to that conclusion.

Friday's news remind us of the Great Space Coaster. If no gnus is good gnus (with Gary Gnu), then will a puppet wildebeest tell you when something potentially good happens with impending climate patterns? Well, even if he won't, I will, so let's dig in. 

  • The probability of an El Niño next winter, a climatological pattern that often brings plenty of rain, just keeps going up and up. But that doesn't necessarily mean an end to drought:
"There are all kinds of El Niños: small, medium, large and Godzilla," said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "I don't see the Godzilla,'' he said. "But I'll give it another couple of months. This still could be El Fizzle. I don't want to recommend that you invest any of your retirement in the umbrella market yet." (SJ Mercury-News/Paul Rogers)


California Drought News: A Song of Ice and Fire



Daenerys of "Game of Thrones."

Welcome to all of our new readers who came here expecting "Game of Thrones" spoilers. Sorry for the confusion. This song of ice and fire is related to today's drought news.

Today's dryku:
Hey, HBO fans
Here is your spoiler alert:
Summer is coming


  • Or rather, the lack of it. The BBC highlights the trials and travails of the nearest ski slope to Los Angeles. The ongoing solannoyed (this week's drought synonym) has kept Mount Waterman from opening for two years. They're looking to diversify their offerings:
They plan to diversify to include opening in the summer for mountain bikers and hikers, and perhaps even holding concerts. (BBC)


  • This could be the worst fire season ever. Fire officials are pushing prevention since 95 percent of California fires are caused by humans. Not only is it a dangerous job fighting fires, it's also expensive:


Stanford divests from coal; is that enough to keep the #gofossilfree momentum going?

Author and activist Bill McKibben has worked with anti-climate change group to encourage fossil fuel divestment at hundreds of college campuses around the country.

Pitzer College’s record didn’t last long: Stanford University has become the largest higher-ed endowment in the country to announce a divestment related to fossil fuels. From Stanford’s statement to the press, released after a Board of Trustees decision: 

Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations," said Stanford President John Hennessy. "The university's review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future."


California Drought News: Cities getting hotter, salmon getting scarcer and water flowing uphill

los angeles sun solar

Photo by irenetong via Flickr Creative Commons

The asphalt and concrete of Los Angeles absorb solar energy to create what's known as an "urban heat island."

The government's new assessment of how climate change is affecting the U.S. has dominated the current news cycle. One finding: droughts like California's current dry spell are likely to be longer and more frequent going forward.

  • KPCC's Molly Peterson took a look at what droughts and heat waves amplified by climate change could mean for Southern California. The consequence — the "urban heat island effect" — has the word "island" in its name, but its effects are anything but idyllic. (KPCC)
  • AP picked up on this story first reported by one of our KQED colleagues Lauren Sommer a couple weeks ago: State water officials are considering reversing the flow of some sections of the California Aqueduct in response to the drought.

State water engineers say using pumps to reverse the flow of the aqueduct would be a first in a drought. It would also be a complex engineering challenge, requiring millions of dollars to defy gravity. (San Jose Mercury News)


Devastating sea star disease now seen in Oregon

Sea Star wasting disease 1

Jed Kim

A sea star at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach has lost three arms, possibly as a result of wasting disease.

We've reported on the mysterious disease that's wiping out sea star populations in Southern California. Instances of the wasting disease that causes affected animals to disintegrate into milky white goo has been seen along the West Coast as far north as Alaska. 

Reports of the spread had been somewhat patchy, but the Oregonian reports that it's getting more filled in, at least along Oregon's coast:

The divers were about 25 feet deep when they found starfish with severe signs of wasting disease. Some were disintegrating into white goo and dropping arms. It’s the first major discovery of dying starfish on Oregon’s coast. Until now, just one tide pool site with a few dying starfish had been found near Yachats last year. 

Divers and beach visitors are encouraged to report instances of the disease that they find. That information will help researchers better understand the spread of the disease.