After months of speculation, the potential record-breaking El Niño event of 2015-16 is upon us, and the impact is being felt in unsettling ways across the United States. In the past week, the Pacific Northwest has been struck with torrential rainfall, flooding, and mudslides. Two people were killed and huge swaths of the region were without power as a result of this extreme weather. The west and midwest has been slammed with snow and the east coast has been positively toasty. But as devastating as El Niño has been in some areas, and particularly for the Northwest, its impact may prove particularly destructive in California. While rain will provide some relief to the drought-stricken Golden State, it may also come with a high cost.

California flooding, Guerneville California flooding, California climate change
The impact of extreme weather in California this winter will likely be exacerbated by the state’s enduring drought. FEMA warns that very dry soil and wildfire damage has set the stage for flooding and erosion. Dry soil tends to becomes rigid, which discourages water retention and encourages rain runoff. Although California’s reservoirs will receive a boost from El Niño-induced rainfall, the rain threatens to damage other infrastructure, including the potential breaching of levees in the Sacramento Valley. “All it takes is one levee to fail, compounding events to occur, for flooding to happen,” says Bob Fenton, regional FEMA administrator. High tides up to eleven inches above average are also increasing flood risks along the coast.

Related: 1000 year flood devastates Death Valley – and El Niño threatens more

The West’s heavy precipitation turns to snow in the Mountain and Plains regions, which have already received heavy snowfall this season. Meanwhile, the Northeast is experiencing an exceptionally warm December, with anticipated high temperatures up to twenty degrees above average in Boston. NOAA has predicted that this season’s El Niño event will endure into spring 2016.

Via Business Insider

Images via US Army Corps of Engineers, Shutterstock and NOAA