It is so dry in California that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that 94 percent of the state's massive $45 billion farm economy is suffering from severe to "exceptional" drought.
That could change—dramatically.
"The odds are stacked that we will see a return for the first time in five years to El Niño in the summer or fall of 2014," said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. "Odds are in the ballpark of one-half to two-thirds likelihood."
El Niño is a weather phenomenon that begins with warming waters in the eastern Pacific. It often creates drought in much of Asia and Australia, with cooler and wetter weather in North America. "For U.S. agriculture in very general terms, El Niño is a rainmaker," Rippey said.
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That should be good for farmers across the country, leading to higher yields for things such as corn, soybeans and cotton. As for California, Rippey said if an El Niño is strong enough, it could eradicate years of drought in one season. It's happened before.
"Some of the historically strong El Niños—1982-83, 1997-98—the hallmark of those were flooding rains and heavy mountain snowfall across much of California."
The '82-'83 El Niño caused an estimated 2,000 deaths globally and $13 billion in damage, according to National Geographic, but the most memorable pictures may have been oceanfront mansions in Malibu being swept away. "That was scary," actress Dyan Cannon said at the time as waves crashed through her home. "I panicked."