Will El Nino Bust California’s Drought?
California winemakers have so far escaped any serious consequences from the state’s unprecedented drought. That luck, however, cannot hold forever, and if meteorologists and other climate experts are right, it won’t have to.
It’s becoming increasingly likely that relief, albeit mostly temporary, will come this winter in the form of El Nino, the climatological phenomenon marked by an increase in the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean, typically resulting in higher rainfall totals in California and the western United States.
Over the past several months, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have steadily increased the odds to a virtual certainty of California being on the receiving end of much-needed rainfall due to a strong to very strong El Nino. A possible sign of things to come occurred in the area around Truckee and Lake Tahoe in July, when rare summer rain and hailstorms surprised and gratified tourists and locals alike. (Okay, so locals were a lot more gratified than tourists.)
Still, even a deluge of Biblical proportions this winter won’t get the state out of its years-long drought. It will, however, lessen some of the pressure on California’s groundwater reserves, which many vintners and farmers have been tapping into to irrigate their crops. Though grapevines are hardy little suckers that can withstand prolonged dry spells, many vintners are concerned that drought-affected vines will produce lower yields, even if in some cases quality might be improved.
Another worry is the accumulation of salt in soils after so many dry years. Wet weather washes that excess salt away, but without regular cleansings too-salty soils can cause grapevines to lose their leaves, resulting in grapes that can’t fully ripen. That’s the long version. The short version: Pray for rain.