Current California Drought and Water Supply

March 14, 2012; 6:08 AM ET
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Photo by Steve Geer of photos.com

Contrary to last year's record high snowfalls, California's weather this year was marked by significant drought conditions that could having lasting implications on the Golden State's water supply.

Unlike some states, California's water year, the 12-month period over which hydrologic records are kept, is measured from July 1 to June 30. As of Feb. 1, 2012, the precipitation had only hit 60 percent of the average.

Totals are drastically low in snowpack water content as well, as of March 12, resting at 35 percent of the average for this time of year and only between 25 and 35 percent of last year. Last year on this date, snowpack average was 135 percent.

According to california.gov, "Water year 2012 is beginning to look like it will be one of our drier water years, currently running in the lower 20 percent rank of years."


Conditions over much of California range from abnormally dry (yellow) to severe drought (orange), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's U.S. Drought Monitor.

But the report is still positive for the water supply.

"Reservoir storage is the bright spot in the outlook, still about 10 percent above average for the date, thanks to a bountiful 2011," the website reads.

Different opinions are circulating, however, regarding the months to come.

"While last year certainly has probably prevented a disaster with the low snow totals this year, I don't necessarily agree that it means there won't be some repercussions this year," said AccuWeather's Expert Senior Meteorologist and Western U.S. Weather Expert Ken Clark.

"Though reservoirs are more filled than they have been, with so low of snowpack (even with the current storm) there will be a water loss this year."

Others believe the real implications will likely be seen next season, depending on the amount of precipitation that falls should an El Niño pattern occur.

El Niño is a phenomenon characterized by warmer-than-normal water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and has the opposite effects of La Niña, the pattern we have seen for the past two years.

"We almost never get a La Niña pattern three years in a row," according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson. "So, we are pretty confident about the pattern switching to an El Niño. It's just a matter of when that change occurs."

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Meghan Evans, the ENSO pattern is amidst the transition from a weak La Niña to a neutral phase.

"The pattern should be entirely neutral by April. However, it is possible that the pattern may not switch to El Niño until next fall," Evans said.

Should this occur, it could mean a very wet winter 2013 for California with potential for widespread flooding.

A series of storms this week and weekend will bring some needed moisture to part of the state, but even more precipitation will be needed to bring amounts back to normal for this season.

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