Uh-Oh: Not Much Rain Is Falling In California

Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water



Unseasonably warm California weather is great to get outdoors, but a lack of winter rain that’s been a pattern in the last couple seasons is cause for concern coming off such an extended drought.

Here’s the L.A, Times:

The dry conditions are partly to blame for the worst fire season on record in California. Low humidity and lack of rain coupled with high winds fueled destructive wildfires from Mendocino down to San Diego this fall. In wine country, more than 40 people died and more than 10,000 homes were lost. To the south, the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties became the largest wildfire on record in California.

If the trend continues, forecasters say California could see, come spring, a light Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key source of water for the state during the dry summer.

The weather station in California with the longest record of recording rainfall, San Francisco, has measured just 3.4 inches of rain since the start of July. That’s only 44% of average for this time of year, said meteorologist Jan Null.

So far this December, San Francisco has received only 0.15 inches of rain.

San Francisco is already close to the halfway point in its rainy season: Jan. 19. In an average year, the city would have received 11.83 inches by then, halfway to the annual average of 23.65 inches, Null said.

Null said he analyzed rain records going back to the oldest precipitation record on file for California, the 1849-50 season in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. He found that there were 22 years in which San Francisco at this point in the season had similar anemic — but not abysmal — rainfall, between 2.9 inches and 3.9 inches.

And what Null found was bad news: Of those 22 years, only four of them caught up in the remainder of the rainy season and finished above the average.

“Those aren’t very good odds,” Null said.

Here’s some more Bay Area perspective on the lack of rain/snow from the San Jose Mercury News, as the state starts to feel the sense of urgency to receive some wet weather.:

“February is the peak season for snow accumulation,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA who studies Western weather patterns. “Every week that we don’t reverse this trend from here forward, it’s going to be that much harder to get to where we want to be by the end of the season.”

Nearly all of California’s rain and snow falls between Nov. 1 and March 31. So time is running short.

“The figures don’t lie,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources. “We’re at 30 percent snowpack right now, and last year at this time we were at 182 percent.”

Ominously, the forecast for the next two weeks calls for more hot weather across the state, with almost no chance of rain or snow.

The reason: A ridge of high-pressure air, which is nearly 4 miles high and stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to the California-Mexico border, has been strengthening in recent days. Such ridges, which were the main cause of the state’s 2012-2017 drought, block storms that normally bring California moisture during the winter months.

“It’s like a giant boulder sitting in the stream and preventing the stream from reaching the state,” Swain said. “The stream is the jet stream, and it’s sending storms into Alaska and British Columbia.”

As the Fresno Bee also states, the drought-like conditions could have a major financial strain on Sierra tourism like ski areas.:

This winter marks the 60th anniversary of China Peak, the 1,300-acre ski area in the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno.

But instead of celebrating, owner/operator Tim Cohee is contemplating the ultimate bummer while struggling through what he describes as the worst season he’s experienced during more than 40 years in the business.

“We have reserves, but at some point they’re going to run out,” Cohee said. “At that point you have to shut the resort down. There is a scenario – maybe it’s not this year – but there is a scenario that says the ski area no longer exists because of these droughts. …

Following five parched years (2011-16) and one year of wet, snowy reprieve (2017), we’re back to the D word. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter again aren’t cooperating. As the calendar flips to February, China Peak reports season snowfall totals of 15 inches at the base area and 28 inches at the 8,700-foot summit.

Normally, those totals are measured in feet.

During the offseason, resort staff replaced the oldest lift servicing the upper mountain, Chair 2, with a quad chair that Cohee purchased second-hand from another resort. The project cost him $900,000, and the “new” lift hasn’t carried a single skier or rider.

“We didn’t borrow any money,” Cohee said. “We paid cash for it. Like to have that back.”

The state could really use rain and snow right about now. But it doesn’t look promising for now.


It doesn’t hurt to beg for some bad – or more specifically good – weather in the Golden State: