If you happened to be driving through Northern California this summer, you might think it hadn’t rained for years—because, more or less, it hasn’t. The pilings on which Lake Tahoe docks rest stand on dry land.
After four years of drought, the state’s landscape anywhere beyond the reach of irrigation has a parched, dusty, dying feel to it. This May, The New York Times columnist Tim Egan, based on the West Coast, wondered if this was “The End of California”? The pictures he ran with the column were telling, if also depressing.
How long can a place go without rain? How will California survive once the one-year supply of water in her reservoirs is exhausted? The drought, Egan noted, has made “brown the new green” in the Golden State.
Enter El Nino
But out there in the ocean, where currents of differing temperature give rise to sometimes violent, often intense, weather systems, things are changing. El Nino, literally “the little one,” is a phenomenon in which a warming sea-surface changes temperatures and wind cycles in the atmosphere worldwide, spawning serious storm systems. And it’s underway now.
In “El Nino Forecast for California: Batten Down the Hatches,” the KQED Science site predicts that the winter weather in California will be “in a word: wet.” How wet? The San Francisco Bay Area, which (pre-drought) normally receives about 22 inches of winter rain, is projected to get 42 inches.
The KQED Science article points out that “The latest dynamical model forecasts are calling for well above average precipitation throughout California during the January-March period, and the recent forecasts from the more frequently updated CFS model have shifted toward a wet December as well.” In other words, time to invest in an umbrella. And maybe a new roof as well. In Southern California, according to station ABC7 and its website, roofing companies are “slammed with business as homeowners scramble to replace old and leaky roofs.”
Climatologist Bill Patzert from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., tells the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the “Godzilla El Nino” many see developing will be “a stud, not a dud,” and that “the roof and gutter people are in heaven right now.” If heaven is all the work you can handle, and then some, they are there. In fact, many roofing company owners in California are “experiencing a record season,” according to website SmartBrief.com. Tom Imbruglia, senior project manager of Royal Roof Co., in Pomona, told the Tribune that his business went from a 10-day backlog to an eight-week backlog. “We’re swamped,” the paper quoted J.N. Davis Roofing Co. owner Robin Smith, of Pasadena, as saying. Smith urged those with compromised roofs who couldn’t get a roofer right away to, at the very least, clean out their gutters. "I've been in business for 30 years,” John Kurz, owner of Kurz Roofing, in Palo Alto, told NBC News, “and I've never had proactive roof repair calls before. People are picking up on the warnings."
All the media about El Nino has created anxiety among some homeowners, desperate to make sure that their buildings “can withstand the potentially dangerous forces associated with such storms,” says CBS Los Angeles, in an investigative piece (see it on YouTube).
For that reason, many were sitting ducks for scammers looking to take advantage of their distress. The station’s investigative team hired two experts to inspect a five-year-old roof, and both gave their stamp of approval. The investigator, posing as a homeowner, then called on some roofers. The first to respond stated that the roof was OK but attempted to sell the ostensible homeowner a coating, which, of course, would have voided the shingle warranty. The second said that the ridge cap was flawed and would result in a mold problem, which he could resolve for $1,600. The third insisted on nailing shingles down that were “flapping” around the vents. None of this work was necessary, and all of it was priced at $1,000 or more.
Meanwhile, legit California roofers are, pardon the pun, deluged with calls. Ryan Saber, owner of Saber Roofing, in Woodside, says that his company is booked out on estimates into February and on jobs into summer. "People are begging and pleading for us to come out," he told NBC News. "There's too much work and not enough time."