The El Niño Didn't Show and We're Planning to Sue

Despite all the hype, the El Niño of the Century (OK, it's still fairly early in the century) was a total bust here in San Diego. In spite of predictions last fall that the next diluvian phase was upon us, we got one third less rainfall than normal. Can we sue for breach of forecast?

When I first moved to San Diego four decades ago from Denver, I was puzzled that people would invite me out for coffee "if it's not raining." Did restaurants and coffee shops in sunny places like San Diego close in inclement weather? Efforts to get to the bottom of this were initially unsuccessful until it was finally explained to me why Southern Californians don't go out in showery conditions:

It's wet.

San Diegans do not do wet. We're used to dry. Sometimes really dry. As the joke goes, our four seasons are fire, earthquake, landslide, and drought. Having such a cooperative climate does make the locals really testy when precipitation should interfere with one's tee (or tea) time. It was a totally new concept to one who had lived in the Northeast, the Midwest, on the equator, and in Sweden, all locales with no lack of rain.

But all that changed with the current drought, now in Year 5. We're on water rationing, allowed to water only before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. on one's two allotted irrigation days. Dare to water at a non-designated time and you risk the wrath of the Water Police. And yup, we really have them.

Now, of course, the prospect of rain is cause for celebration. The El Niño was going to end the drought! It always looked so optimistic. Huge storms came down from the Pacific Northwest, inflicted watery mayhem on the entire West Coast then took a sudden U-ey at L.A. and headed out to Colorado. It was profoundly annoying. San Diego has been stood up by more storms this year than anyone could count.

But none of this kept the ever-optimistic local TV station's Storm Watch team, lathered into a frenzy at the possibility of a 10th of an inch of rain, from dutifully standing on the beach in their yellow slickers breathlessly predicting imminent doom while the waves in the background lapped gently on the sand. But, they swear, the rain really is coming! And it could be catastrophic! They just look so earnest and hopeful, you wanted it to rain for no other reason than it would make them happy. And for once, right.

Running out of things to say on the beach, where the storm winds had not so much ruffled a strand on the newscaster's perfectly coiffed head, the news cast would cut to live camera crews driving around Kearny Mesa, where a zoom to the windshield revealed exactly three drops--proof that yes, it really is (sort of) raining! Cut to green blobs on the TV studio's Doppler Radar screen which proved once and for all, that... that... somebody somewhere is getting some rain! Just not us.

When it last rained in March, I felt a definite sadness knowing that San Diego's much-hyped El Niño season was over and we probably wouldn't see serious precipitation until October--if then. Our alleged average 9.5 inch yearly rainfall was a mere 6.87 inches, well short of the mark.

So the water rationing and the humongous water bills continue. And El Niño? You'll be hearing from our lawyer.