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November-December 2015

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From the Editor

Growing up in California, I remember long stretches of time without any appreciable rain. I remember getting a beautiful new umbrella for my birthday and never having a chance to use it. I remember taking army showers to conserve water.

I remember my grandmother visiting from New England asking if our local river—a bone-dry river bed at the time—was a parking lot. Drought was a constant in our lives and the norm growing up.

Now that I've returned to my home state after a decade and a half on the East Coast, it is hard to become accustomed to strict rationing measures here as California endures its fourth year of the worst drought in the state's record.

There has been a lot of noise this summer about how a strong El Niño—possibly the strongest in recorded history—is taking shape for this upcoming winter, and could provide some drought relief to the stricken West. There are no guarantees with El Niño, of course; even strong El Niño events do not guarantee big precipitation in California, and even when there is above-average rainfall for the winter during an El Niño, there is no guarantee that it will reach the northern part of the state where it is most needed to fill empty reservoirs and aquifers that feed much of the state.

But I know I'm not alone in hoping—despite knowing full well that there are no guarantees in meteorology—that this El Niño could bring the rain we so desperately need. So many of us remember the El Niños of 1982–1983 and 1997 that inundated our state, and as a result, El Niños are inextricably linked with rain in our minds. I have a distinct memory of swimming in my backyard during the 1982–1983 event…and I didn't have a pool. My yard was simply three feet underwater!

No one knows yet exactly how El Niño will pan out, and our best bet at this point is simply getting a better understanding of how this phenomenon behaves, its history, and its projected effects. In this issue, Jack Williams and Jan Null do just that, and the result is a fantastic primer on one of the big influences on our planet's weather systems.

Meanwhile, the verdict is already in for last winter, when there wasn't an El Niño. In his annual article, David Robinson's 2014–2015 Snow Report takes a look back at the record-breaking snows of last winter in New England, as well as snowfall across the rest of the country.

This issue also features two different but fascinating articles, one by Nick D'Alto on new large-scale weather testing facilities that can simulate hurricanes and fires, and one by Caroline Benner on surviving the weather challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I'm very proud of the articles we have the pleasure to feature in this issue of the magazine, and I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

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