BEGINNING about 1,100 years ago, what is now California baked in two droughts, the first lasting 220 years and the second 140 years. Each was much more intense than the mere six-year dry spells that afflict modern California from time to time, new studies of past climates show. The findings suggest, in fact, that relatively wet periods like the 20th century have been the exception rather than the rule in California for at least the last 3,500 years, and that mega-droughts are likely to recur.
Severe Ancient Droughts: A Warning to California, NYT, 19 July 1994
This could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950
Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, Latest forecast suggests ‘Godzilla El Niño’ may be coming to California, Los Angeles Times, 13 August 2015
Meyerson, E.A., Mayewski, P.A., Kreutz, K.J., Meeker, D., Whitlow, S.I. and Twickler, M.S. 2003. The polar expression of ENSO and sea-ice variability as recorded in a South Pole ice core. Annals of Glaciology 35: 430-436.
What was learned
Among other things, the authors noted a shift at about 1800 towards generally cooler conditions. This shift was concurrent with an increase in the frequency of El Niño events in the ice core proxy record, which is contrary to what is generally predicted by climate models, where cooling generally leads to less El Niño activity and warming leads to more (Timmermann et al., 1999). On the other hand, the authors’ findings were harmonious with the historical El Niño chronology of both South America (Quinn and Neal, 1992) and the Nile region (Quinn, 1992), which depict “increased El Niño activity during the period of the Little Ice Age (nominally 1400-1900) and decreased El Niño activity during the Medieval Warm Period (nominally 950-1250),” as per Anderson (1992) and de Putter et al., 1998).
Anderson, R.Y. 1992. Long-term changes in the frequency of occurrence of El Niño events. In: Diaz, H.F. and Markgraf, V. (Eds.), El Niño. Historical and Paleoclimatic Aspects of the Southern Oscillation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 193-200.
de Putter, T., Loutre, M.-F. and Wansard, G. 1998. Decadal periodicities of Nile River historical discharge (A.D. 622-1470) and climatic implications. Geophysical Research Letters 25: 3195-3197.
Quinn, W.H. 1992. A study of Southern Oscillation-related climatic activity for A.D. 622-1990 incorporating Nile River flood data. In: Diaz, H.F. and Markgraf, V. (Eds.), El Niño. Historical and Paleoclimatic Aspects of the Southern Oscillation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 119-149.
Quinn, W.H. and Neal, V.T. 1992. The historical record of El Niño events. In: Bradley, R.S. and Jones, P.D. (Eds.), Climate Since A.D. 1500. Routledge, London, UK, pp. 623-648.
Timmermann, A., Oberhuber, J., Bacher, A., Esch, M., Latif, M. and Roeckner, E. 1999. Increased El Niño frequency in a climate model forced by future greenhouse warming. Nature 398: 694-696.