Three mega forces—the economy, extreme weather and government regulations. Each of them has the potential to greatly impact the green industry. The economy is the most dominant force, in my opinion. Remember the industry wreckage resulting from the housing meltdown in 2007-2008 and the 2009 Great Recession? As far as government regulations‚ that’s a discussion for another day. Let’s examine extreme weather, specifically the 2015-2016 El Niño.
As I write this in early autumn, the newest El Niño is generating a fair bit of publicity, interest and concern, especially in California and the U.S. Southwest. Weather experts say this El Niño is shaping up to be among the strongest ever recorded. They predict a 95 percent probability the 2015-2016 El Niño impacts weather through the Northern Hemisphere winter. Its effects are expected to peak in late fall/early winter, and weaken during spring 2016.
El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. Fishermen off the coast of South America recognized this phenomenon in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. They chose the name on the time of year (around December) during which these warm water events tended to occur. The term refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific, says the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Typical El Niño effects include warmer-than-average temperatures and over the western and northern United States, and over western and central Canada. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier-than-average conditions can be expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest, claims NOAA. Obviously, if this El Niño develops as expected, it will have a significant effect upon agriculture and also upon our green industry.
While drought-stricken California and much of the rest of the U.S. Southwest could use the precipitation, too much precipitation in too short a period of time could create huge problems. This is especially true in hillside regions of the West Coast denuded of vegetation caused by massive wildfires these past few months. And what about all of the California properties that have had their lawns removed and replaced with desert landscaping? Should the rains come as expected, will some of these property owners experience serious erosion on their properties?
While there’s a strong chance this El Niño will dump serious amounts of rain and refresh the snow pack in the western mountains, it’s hardly a 100 percent certainty. The effects of every El Niño since 1950, the year our national weather services began following them, have been different.
For example, the 1982-1983 El Niño brought heavy winter rains and flooding to California, the Pacific Northwest and also to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. However, the 1965-1966 El Niño again drenched portions of Louisiana and southern Mississippi, but spared the West Coast, bringing above-average precipitation only to northern California.
In the case of California, a wet El Niño will bring relief but only temporary relief to its water problems. Yes, its effects may replenish the state’s reservoirs and restore its mountain snow pack. But, given the water demands of California’s 5.8 million acres of farmland and its 30-plus-million people, it will still need to invest billions of dollars to build new reservoirs and lakes to ensure its water future. Encouragingly, this past year state lawmakers authorized $7.12 billion in bonds to improve and expand the state water supply infrastructure.
But, what about those of us living in states east of the Rockies?
The El Niño is predicted to bring cooler and wetter conditions than usual through the Lower Plains and the South, and warmer and drier conditions than usual across the Midwest. How about the Northeast and New England? There doesn’t seem to be a firm prediction on what this El Niño will produce there.