Drought? What drought?
Californians could be forgiven for asking that question after two big storms in December brought record rain to the north and mountain snow to Southern California that dusted palm trees in some lower-elevation towns. The start of a new year, however, has the state back in a dry stretch, and experts wonder what’s in store for the critical few weeks ahead.
“We must necessarily plan for the worst but hope for the best,” said Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager with the California Department of Water Resources. “We are only now entering the normally wettest part of our winter season, and what happens — or doesn’t — in the next six weeks or so will tell us a lot about the likely outcome of the water year.”
But the start to 2015 does not look promising for the Golden State. On New Year’s Eve, the Los Angeles branch of the National Weather Service summarized the outlook on its Facebook page. “Rain for California to bring in the New Year?” it asked. Showing a map modeling precipitation over the next week, its answer was blunt: “Not very likely.”
And with California’s rainy season being defined by a short winter window, what happens in January and February will be critical.
“A worst-case scenario for us would be a repeat of last year’s very dry hydrology — fourth driest year on record in terms of statewide runoff,” said Jones. “A best-case scenario would be a series of storms that provides the snowpack to refill the major reservoirs, but not with a timing that causes flooding problems.”
Snowpack typically provides a third of the state’s water via reservoirs, but Sierra Nevada levels are just half their long-term average, even with the December storms.
“In the coming weeks we need more snowpack accumulation in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades Ranges to help replenish reservoir storage later in the season,” said Jones.
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