Western US weather expert

Historical California Drought-The Amazing Stats

8/19/2014, 1:16:39 AM

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Most people know there is a big ongoing drought in California. The last three years have brought some of the driest weather every recorded. In addition, this year the average temperature is running at record high levels as well.

Water managers statewide are facing some extremely tough decisions. There is not enough water for farmers in the very rich growing area of central California to grow their crops with many individual farmers leaving hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of acres fallow. There is no doubt that farming production this year will be down over other years. This may be softened some by farmers using more groundwater. However, this is expensive and is only a band aid for the short term. The groundwater table continues to fall causing farmers to dig deeper and deeper. Homeowners are under watch about using too much water for their lawns and unnecessary cleaning of sidewalks and driveways. They are facing the possibility of hefty fines. Some communities are rationing their water use.

I took a look at the numbers since this drought began in the summer of 2011. Since then, the last three rainfall seasons have seen far below normal for precipitation. Snowfall in the winter months, the main feed for reservoirs, has been meager. Below is a chart showing the amount of total precipitation deficit from July 1, 2011, to the present, the percent of normal for that time period and what is the normal yearly rainfall for each city.

These numbers really put the lack of rainfall into perspective. Most every city deficit is at least one full year of normal rainfall behind; some cities are closer to two years. Take, for example, San Luis Obispo. Normal annual rainfall is 23.12 inches. They are 40.38 inches below normal since July 1, 2011. They would need 63.5 inches of rain this season to bring the four-year average to normal. Historically, San Luis Obispo's wettest year on record is 48.76 inches set in 1969.

Obviously this historical drought California cannot go away in just one year. It is highly doubtful it could go away in two years of higher-than-normal rain. This makes one wonder if the huge hole that has been dug these last three years can ever be made up. Historically speaking, there are many more drier-than-normal years than wetter. So even if there is a wet year or two down the road, it could be followed by two or three years of below normal rain and snow.

At one point, it was hopeful that a projected moderate to strong El Nino season coming up would bring some relief to the severity of the drought. That hope is now fading as El Nino is looking weaker. A weak El Nino does not correlate nearly as well to above-normal precipitation as a moderate or strong El Nino. It is entirely possible that this coming rainy season could bring lower-than-normal rainfall if El Nino continues to fade.

Time will tell on all of this. However, the overwhelming message is that there is not going to be any short-term fix for the water problems to the state of California. Mother Nature just cannot do that. The amount of rain needed is just too great. Buckle up folks, it may get worse before it gets any better.

You can follow me on Twitter @Kenwxman.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com


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Western US weather expert