A wetter, smokier winter on tap from now-forming Pacific El Nino? Could be!

Weather for one reason or another is foremost on lots of people’s minds these days – or so it would seem. I have seen the news reports of late and, in those, the consensus among cited experts is there being a strong likelihood that the west is in for a wet winter. The basis for such predictions stems from warm Pacific Ocean currents moving northward attributed to a phenomenon known as El Nino.

ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11[1]Apparently, to be influenced this coming winter is the jet stream and in such a way that its targeted path is expected to track predominantly west to east across the U.S. for much of the season, dumping, out west, very healthy amounts of much-needed precipitation and thereby bringing an end to the region’s four-year-long drought or so the thinking goes, at least at this time, anyway. It’ll be awesome if it happens; very disappointing if it doesn’t. Time will tell.

If this is in fact the way things play out, the western air will most assuredly get some much needed relief with a lot of anticipated and hoped-for cleansing. At the same time, it could also mean a longer season for burning wood in fireplaces and woodstoves. If this comes to pass and if conditions work out just so, any air-quality benefit from cleansing weather features like rain or wind, could be partially offset from increased wood-burning activity.

In California, in the San Joaquin Valley, wet autumn and winter weather produces a lot of low-lying fog in between storms. Characteristic of this ground-based fog is the tendency for pollutants to be held close to the earth’s surface. These periods where high pressure builds creating atmospheric inversions, keep cool, moist air close to the ground while less-dense warmer air occupies space atop the inversion layer’s ceiling. Meanwhile, when high-pressure ridges give way to low-pressure centers, a good mixing of the atmosphere takes place and said inversions dissipate. Besides the Valley, such weather conditions as well could be found elsewhere throughout the west.

Now, some may be puzzled as to how this El Nino effect works or why atmospheric changes occur on account of it.

Think of it this way: Warmer ocean currents theoretically precipitate a rise in ocean evaporation. Higher evaporation activity in turn translates to a higher likelihood that concentration of water in the air on this order (think of it as water-logged air), will fall to the land in the form of rain and in the mountain areas as snow. Again, time will tell if this plays out.

Whether we get this much-needed relief or not, finding ways of heating our domiciles other than burning wood when the cool- and cold-weather climes arrive, would be greatly appreciated by at least one person I know – me. I hark back to one Dec. 26th evening in particular in my neighborhood when the air was so thick with wood smoke that there is no question the local air district’s standard for 24-hour fine particle pollution (PM 2.5) of 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air on that date and time was far exceeded, meaning there were blatant violations of the standard then in effect. That standard has since been revised – it is now a “conditional” 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air (with conditions – exceptions – applied, in other words). Needless to say, I went back inside and that is where I stayed.

That said, I indeed look forward to the end of a long-running drought or at least a respite from it, even if it is short-lived, with much-needed precipitation in the form of rain and mountain snow coming. Personally, I can do without the high particulate matter concentrations in the air that so often in the Valley accompanies damp, foggy weather which invariably for those who make the Valley their home will make inhaling air-borne pollutants caused on account of combustion processes whatever the form, all the more probable.

A change in the wind?

It’d be nice to get a breather for a change from what has lately become bad-air doldrums, so routine for winter, in the Valley, especially. I mean, who here wouldn’t appreciate that?!

Even if I have already said it enough, I’ll say it again: we’ll have to wait and see what Mother Nature this coming winter will be up to.

Image above: NASA

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