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Scientists Predict Wet Winter for Dry American West



Much of the western United States is suffering from extreme drought conditions. U.S. officials are blaming the lack of rainfall and snow for wildfires and water shortages.

The long drought has influenced changes around an increasing number of homes in southern California. More and more people there are removing traditional garden plants and replacing them with plants that need less water.

Jan Muntz is one of those homeowners. She says it has not been easy to replace the plants in her yard.

“It’s very painful, and some of these plants have been there probably 80 and 90 years.”

Many plants in the Los Angeles area do not grow there naturally. In other words, they are non-native plants. Some require lots of water.

The Theodore Payne Foundation has been working for years to educate Californians about plants that are native to the state. Kitty Connolly works for the group. She says there has been a sharp increase in the number of people who want to learn about indigenous plants.

“You use less water, so in a California native garden, depending on how you plant, you’ll save 50 to 80 percent of water over a conventional garden.”

The foundation operates a nursery where people learn how to grow and care for native plants.

Scientists are now predicting some weather changes in the American West. Bill Patzert is a climatologist, a scientist who studies the climate. He predicts rain will fall in Southern California this winter.

“This looks very, very promising for a down payment on drought relief in the American West. We’re very hopeful for this El Nino.”

The El Nino weather event produces warmer-than-average waters in the Pacific Ocean, near Earth’s Equator. Scientists expect this weather pattern will be very strong, beginning at the end of this year and continuing into next year. Mr. Patzert notes that El Nino also has an effect on other areas.

“Some areas that are normally dry like the American West, Peru and Ecuador, get torrential rains. Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines and northern Australia -- they get punishing droughts. Even in South Africa, they get droughts and so there isn’t one continent that doesn’t feel the footprint of a big El Nino.”

El Nino lasts for about a year. But another weather pattern is forming, and could last much longer. It is called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. Nate Mantua is a research scientist. He told VOA on Skype that the PDO could produce warming and cooling patterns for many years.

“The warm pattern of the PDO favors above-normal rainfall in southern California and throughout the southwest part of the U.S. and northern Mexico, so it would favor a break in these dry conditions for the Southwest.”

Mr. Mantua notes, weather is unpredictable. He says the southwestern United States may have only one year of rain.

I'm Marsha James.

Is your country being affected by El Nino? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

Elizabeth Lee reported on this story from Los Angeles. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

yard – n. an outdoor area that is next to a house and is usually covered by grass

indigenous – adj. native; produced, living, or existing naturally in a particular region or environment (often + to)

conventional – adj. of a kind that has been around for a long time and is considered to be usual or typical

nursery – n. a place where plants are grown and sold

down payment – idiomatic phrase. The first of many payments on a home or pricey object

relief – n. the removal or reducing of something that is painful or unpleasant

Equator – n. an imaginary circle around the middle of the Earth that is the same distance from the North Pole and the South Pole

pattern – n. the regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done

torrential – adj. coming in a large, fast stream

footprint – n. the amount of space that is covered by something

favor – v. to make (something) possible or easy; to help (something) to succeed

break – n. a brief period of time during which an activity stops

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