By Rich Holland
As burly as Chris Farley in tights, the El Niño of 2015/16 is already flexing it’s muscles. On one hand the hot water influx turned a tropical storm into the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, and on the other has inundated Texas and Arkansas with rains pushed along by a strong Southern Jetstream. That same push of high altitude shearing West winds has kept every tropical system in the Atlantic out of the Caribbean and up the East Coast. All that moisture meets in the Southeast and one early weather phenomenon was a 1,000-year flood in South Carolina.
In the video posted here, predictions from top government agencies are melded into a single forefast and Mike Halpert of the Climate Prediction Center presents charts showing changes in the weather because of the El Niño.
What does this all mean to kayakers? You need weather to get water and you can’t get your kayak on the water to go fishing if the weather is out of control.
Let’s take a look at how past El Niños have developed weather-wise going into winters where the pileup of warm water North and South America has been strongest. El Niño is what is known as a decadal event, meaning the Southern Oscillation occurs on an average of every 10 years. This year’s event has the potential to be the strongest ever and right now is up in the top three with the winters of 1982/84 and 1997/98.
The key is for winter climate change is for the El Niño to keep growning in strength into and through the fall. That has been the case this year and the heavy rains in Texas and on into the Southeast are a strong indicator of that.
Everyone is hoping this El Niño will ease the drought in California and there is one meteorologic shift that has to happen for heavy rains in all of the state: the Northern Jet has to come down and meet the Southern Jet. The result is two moisture taps and energy sources are combined and one offspring is known as the Pineapple Express — giant blobs of tropical moisture blast ashore and dump day after day of liquid. These are the storms that can fill reservoirs and send hillsides down in a flood of mud. Since it can rain as high as 11,000 feet, they are not good for rebuilding the snowpack that guards against drought in future years. Luckily the atmoshpere cools in February and the snow level drops. Since that’s when the El Niño really seems to hit California and even continue into March, the Sierra should come away with plenty of steep and deep. Either way there should be plenty of water for fish and whitewater come spring of 2016.
The Northeast and the Great Lakes are forecast for warmer, drier conditions and that is probably welcome (except by skiers) after the huge snow events of the last few years. As you will see noted in the video, however, snow events are often triggered by localized conditions (think Lake Effect) and sudden meteorological events. A late extra-tropical storm in the Atlantic and a sudden shift in cold air out of the Arctic could create a Northeaster, for example. Going into the last weekend of October, the forecast was for rain and 10 to 15 foot waves on Lake Erie, not exactly kayaking weather.
Hawaii is expected to have less rainfall, so this looks like a good winter to take advantage of offseason airfares and enjoy the tropics and perhaps join the Pacific Warriors (some of them are guides) for some big game kayak fishing.