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Onslaught of California Storms Fails to Provide Critical Relief for Reservoirs, Farmers

By by Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
February 14, 2015, 2:35:24 AM EST

Though the skies opened up over California during the last month of 2014, the dry start to 2015 has officials bracing for the state’s fourth consecutive year of drought.

Reservoir levels have been on a roller-coaster ride since December, when several inches of rain inundated much of the state. San Francisco received 10.66 inches of rain and Sacramento had 8.60 inches during December.

Still, every single major reservoir in California was running below 50 percent of capacity at the end of December, according to the Department of Water Resources.

And January brought a turn for the worse.

For the first time on record, parts of Northern California received no measurable precipitation in January, the month that is typically wettest for the state as a whole.


February kicked off with a promising start, however, as a pineapple express setup sent heavy rain to northern California again in the first week of the month.

More than 10.10 inches fell over Mt. Shasta, California, through Feb. 9, while Santa Rosa received 4.20 inches.

The rain also broke the dry spell for San Francisco after 43 days, becoming the second longest dry spell on record for the city.

“Realistically, this is the first decent event we’ve seen since the middle to later part of December,” Climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center Brian Fuchs said.

“One big event is helpful, but it’s not going to be the cure-all,” he said.


While periods of heavy rainfall do benefit reservoirs in the short term, they don’t put a significant dent in the long-term drought crisis.

“Though rain brought some short-term relief to reservoirs, it’s snow that’s essential for most of California,” Western Weather Expert Ken Clark said.

“What is needed now is snow in the Sierra, and right now it is far below normal.”

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Melting snow in late spring and summer feeds the reservoir system and is key to how much water will be available for farming in the summer.

As of Feb. 6, the snowpack in the central and southern Sierra was at only 21 and 22 percent of normal, respectively. The northern Sierra is faring worse, with only 19 percent of normal snowpack for the date.

Fuchs speculates that the spring will bring a curtailment of water used for irrigation.

A second season for precipitation is forecast to arrive from late March through April, according to Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok, but it won’t be enough to fill the enormous deficit.

Overall, time is running out for the state to increase its snowpack in the Sierra.

“The clock is ticking and, realistically, we’re not making much headway…” Fuchs said.

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