Early 2016 Rainfall Doesn’t Indicate End Of Drought Is Near


The warnings are clear just because California received a steady dose of rain and snow up to the first week of January doesn’t indicate the state’s four-year drought is nearing an end.

Regardless, early 2016 rain totals across the state suggest optimism.

While more precipitation saturated the Northern Sierras in December of 2014 than at the same time this year, the primary difference is the temperatures were colder this December and thus far into January, essentially turning rain into snow in the higher elevations in the Sierras.

In short, one sizable weather system of rain and snow isn’t comparable to four years of historic drought, which was declared on Jan. 17, 2014.

“Although this is a favorable start to the year, there are still 3-4 more critical months that will determine how much rain/snow will fall and accumulate during the wet season,” wrote David Miskus, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center and Drought Specialist, in an email.

The State Water Resources Control Board will vote on Feb. 2 to determine whether to rescind mandatory water conservation rules that were ordered since last June, which required a statewide reduction of 25 percent in urban water use, and cities and water companies that violate the rules face fines, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

State climatologist Mike Anderson told the Mercury News that he believes the drought could effectively end if 150 percent snowpack covers California by April and if 150 percent of normal precipitation falls in the north.

Folsom Lake, a reservoir in Northern California about 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, rose 30 feet in a 30-day span, KCRA reported. After reducing to a historic low of 135,000 acre feet on Dec. 5, the lake had an 85 percent increase in one month and reached 250,000 acre feet in early January.

At 27 percent of total capacity, Folsom Lake is exactly half of the historical average for this time of the year.

Shasta Lake, also in Northern California, was up 11.5 feet.

Miskus said rain and snow accumulation on April 1 will determine the impact and possible water restrictions for the impending spring and summer months.

“I would say it’s great to see near to above-normal precipitation and colder temperatures at this time, but there is still a long way to go with this winter’s precipitation and much uncertainty,” he said. “Remember this drought is 4 years accumulation, so it will probably take several wet winters in a row, plus summer water conservation, to get the ground water back to normal and the reservoirs filled.”

Until then, the next California storm is expected to arrive late Tuesday.




Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) 2017 wildfires, and statewide wildfire siege in 2018 . Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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