Macroeconomic impact of Pineapple Express

This winter’s “Pineapple Express” (a warm “river in the sky” bringing a huge amount of rain and snow to California) will have Macroeconomic impact.

Tulare Lake Was Drained Off the Map. Nature Would Like a Word.

A barrage of storms has resurrected what was once the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River, setting the stage for a disaster this spring.
By Soumya Karlamangla and Shawn Hubler, The New York Times, April 2, 2023

CORCORAN, Calif. — It is no secret to locals that the heart of California’s Central Valley was once the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River, dammed and drained into an empire of farms by the mid-20th century. The lake bed is essentially a 790-square-mile bathtub — the size of four Lake Tahoes — that dates back to the Ice Age.

Still, even longtime residents have been staggered this year by the brute swiftness with which Tulare Lake has resurfaced: In less than three weeks, a parched expanse of 30 square miles has been transformed by furious storms into a vast and rising sea.

The lake’s rebirth has become a slow-motion disaster for farmers and residents in Kings County, home to 152,000 residents and a $2 billion agricultural industry that sends cotton, tomatoes, safflower, pistachios, milk and more around the planet. The wider and deeper Tulare Lake gets, the greater the risk that entire harvests will be lost, homes will be submerged and businesses will go under… a local poultry facility surrounded by water was weighing whether to move or slaughter a million chickens…

And the resurrected Tulare Lake (pronounced too-LAIR-ee), already more vast than all but one of California’s reservoirs, could remain for two years or longer, causing billions of dollars in economic damage and displacing thousands of farmworkers while transforming the area into the giant natural habitat it had been before it was conquered by farmers. … Veterans of past floods say that, even with all the fortifications in place, the lake could spread to 200 square miles or more…

The region is so crucial to the world’s supply of high-end crops such as nuts, tomatoes and Pima cotton that sustained substantial flooding could lead to higher prices for consumers… [end quote]

The Macroeconomic impact will be food price inflation. As inflation is pressured higher, the Federal Reserve will be impelled to tighten monetary conditions.



This rainy season in California has certainly been one for the record books. I have never seen the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains so high. Overall, it is trending near the previous snow record, when the super El Niño of 1982 - 83 hit the state with repeated storms.

California snow pack trend is found here.

Water reservoirs are being replenished. Current status of the reservoir levels can be found here.

Water is being intentionally released from some of the reservoirs, to make room for even more water when the snow pack melts later this year. The spillway at Lake Oroville dam has been flowing water for a few weeks now. See short video below, if interested.

  • Pete

Yes, yes, yes.

I and my family know this will. My great grandfather delighted in hunting around the edges of the ancient lake while it existed, and both my great grandfather and grandfather did civil engineering design and construction of parts of the current complexity of levees and channels, and I myself have driven over various different sections of the “lake bed” hundreds of times in my life, “looking” at how it functioned.

The landowners and multiple stakeholders (except the dead drunks and the weed heads) have long known the peril and DID NOT CARE because they did not want to invest more than a bare minimum. Less fertile lands (surprise?!) were of course sold. off for idiotically flood prone housing subdivisions. Agro-industrial investment in barns, silos, equipment storage has been made overwhelmingly in places that are almost all hopelessly vulnerable.

Comes the piper to be paid. And EVERYBODY must pay.

The central valley should not receive funding beyond normal emergency assistance until some form of “new management” of local stakeholders provides a plan for far better water control, especially flood control and replinishment of water table, and building code to insure residents are no longer victimized by hopelessly sited residences and major infrastructure is sensible and long term insurable.


I have a couple friends, one each from two of the mighty central valley landowning clans, and they both have come to despise their own family’s legacies’ of rapine shortsightedness.

I actually hope this crisis becomes even more horrific than currently predicted because I am convinced that getting.a real long term solution underway will require nature to deliver an even fiercer lesson.

Sanity at this point means our societies must change our priorities in uncomfortable ways, especially the habits and decisions of the longtime rich and settled, and we must plan and build High Quality Infrastructure for the long term – a daunting but necessary task. But I expect insanity will prevail and the powers to return to short sighted exploitation to the ruination of many.

I am in Mexico where, as my husband points out in jubilation, “the corruption is far more transparent”. GCC looks to be good for my neighborhood.

david fb


Gorgeous video Pete, thanks!

Brother and I are planning what will be my first major High Sierra backpack – into the Palisades region – for late this coming summer. The glaciers are almost all melted away, but the huge snowpack will allow areas of dying ecologies to show new vigor that I dearly want to see.



I mean - maybe? The region produces about $2 billion in agricultural goods - which is a bit more than 1% of U.S. farm production. Not all of that will be lost to flooding. Is that enough to have a measurable impact on food inflation? And is that delta to food inflation (itself only a part of overall inflation) enough to meaningfully affect the fed’s decisions?


The history of the California central valley:


It is interesting that the number of years where the rain/snow is near the average is only about half the time. In 120 years I see about 13 years way above average and 47 times way below average. For the math to work out each of those plentiful years makes up for 3 or 4 drought years.
Roughly, normal is a 20 year period with 10 average-ish years, 7 mild to severe drought years and 3 plentiful years

In this graph the dark blue is about average (25 - 75th percentile). Wide bands both above and below this.



The current problems with water in CA is the amount of ground water that has been removed from the aquifers. These wet years do not replenish the aquifers adequatetly.


This is the first wet year in quite a while where refilling aquifers is making the news and actually happening.

The reemergence of lake Tulare in the south end of California’s Central Valley will help in that area. And other places up and down the valley are deliberately being flooded to help local aquifers.

It’s also likely that Mother Nature will assert her hand and do some flooding of her own choosing as the huge snowpack in the Sierras starts melting.



Yes some California aquifers are having some recovery, but will they reach 1950 or 1960 or 1970 levels?

Colorado River Basin reservoirs still face grim outlook despite healthy snowpack

Winter snow accumulation offers water officials a breather as they face the basin’s long-term drought

As winter storms wind down, water managers and policymakers are mulling over decisions about how to release and retain water in shrunken reservoirs across the basin, which supports 40 million people across the West. This year, many Colorado reservoirs will have the chance to refill, but the situation is still grim for the two largest reservoirs in the system, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“While having a decent year of snowpack doesn’t solve all of our problems, it does give us a little bit of breathing room to focus on longer-term issues,” said Amy Ostdiek, chief of the interstate, federal and water information section at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s leading water agency.

The issue is that the Colorado River Basin is in a 23-year megadrought and those reservoirs are running short on water savings. If Lake Powell and Lake Mead fall too low, they cannot produce hydroelectric power — or release water to downstream users at all.

As of Sunday, the basin’s entire reservoir storage system held about 19 million acre-feet, or about 32% of its capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. An acre-foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year.


Any idea on the rates of replenishment given a normal year of precip?


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Will population and associated water demand reach those levels?
The answer is no.
That’s the root of why we’re in trouble.


To emphasize and be very clear, “some recovery” is not the same as “filled to pre-drought levels.” It just means that inflows to the aquifers are likely to be larger than the outflows. For this year. Which is something that hasn’t happened in quite a while.


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Anybody have any actual numbers?


There are no hard numbers yet, as the bulk of the recharging will happen over the summer and fall as the snow in the Sierras melts.

If you want to know more about the impact of this winter’s storms on the California water supply, this guy has been reporting on water in CA since the Oroville dam spillway failed a few years ago. No hype, no hysteria, just the facts. (OK - some occasional awe at what Mother Nature dishes out, but I don’t see that as a problem.)

He lives in the Sierra foothills, so he lives what he’s reporting. He’s also a pilot and gets a fair amount of aerial footage of the things he’s talking about.



Record snowfall across much of the western United States has not only helped to alleviate drought—it has also brought a massive boon for the region’s ski resorts, with many hoping to keep their lifts running deep into summer…But this year, with mountains across California, Utah and Colorado reporting staggering snowfall, “A-Basin” has plenty of competition for spring skiing, in what is shaping up to be a bumper-sized season across the West…

Utah passed its statewide record for snowpack on March 24, according to the federal government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, with a number of ski resorts there pushing back their closing dates too.

Vail Resorts is the 800-pound gorilla of the ski industry, with 37 resorts across the country and as far afield as Australia and Canada. The company was founded by veterans of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in the early 1960s. It’s now publicly traded…

Vail owns more than twice as many resorts as the No. 2 ranked Alterra Mountain Company, which operates 14 resorts.


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I heard a hydrologist talking about the aquifer problem in CA. Before all the dams and diversions and irrigation, the rivers would flood much of the valley and recharge the aquifers. The way to get back to that regime would be to allow the rivers to flow/flood much more freely in the valley. Given all the development now in place, that is not going to happen.


Here’s a really great book about water and development in the American West:

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The sentence that I remember from that book is, “Water flows uphill toward money.”


There have been concerns about spring flooding after this winter’s heavy snowfalls. The good new for California is the the forecast calls for colder/much colder than normal temps which should slow down the melt.