Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

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The following is an excerpt from a recent article on the Weather West Blog. 

By Daniel Swain of Weather West

Relative cool reprieve may be ending, especially away from coast

The last couple of weeks have featured rather comfortable conditions across much of California, with near average temperatures (even slightly cooler than average) temperatures along the immediate coast due to chilly near shore ocean temperatures and a robust marine layer. Rather dry and cool low pressure systems have repeatedly brought bouts of mainly light mountain showers in recent days–not hydrologically significant precipitation by any means, but still welcome. There has been a notable lack of hot temperatures even across inland areas, as well.

All of that is about to change pretty dramatically as a major pattern change develops along the West Coast. But first, I just wanted to update everyone on the status of the drought. As will be a surprise to absolutely no one reading this, the drought in California is already quite severe, and continues to worsen. The Drought Monitor, the useful (if imperfect) drought monitoring tool put out by UNL and the USDA, suggests in its most recent update that much of Northern California is now experiencing “exceptional drought”–a step above “extreme drought,” and the highest possible drought designation. Many folks in NorCal will point out that some of the more subjective drought monitoring tools and metrics may just be catching up to reality–streamflow, soil moisture, and vegetation dryness have been at record dry levels for some time already. But the steady ramp up of these formal drought classifications has been generating an increasing level of public attention, and for good reason: conditions across a large portion of Northern California are already drier than they were at the *peak* of the 2013-2016 drought, and we’re just now entering the long dry season. Snowpack, such as it was, is now “officially” gone–with less than 0.5% of average remaining. That is an exceptionally early total melt-out, and even more concerningly this very rapid melting apparently contributed very little to runoff on CA’s rivers and streams.

Drought conditions have continued to expand, and “exceptional drought” (the highest possible designation) now extends across much of NorCal and also portions of SE CA.

I won’t belabor the increasingly obvious point about the potential for exceptional wildfire risk and behavior, especially in NorCal and especially in/near forests from August through October. But I really do recommend that people be as prepared as they can be for what could be quite a serious wildfire season. Whether or not we see as many extremely large and destructive fires as we did in 2020 remains to be seen. I am reasonably optimistic that last year remains an outlier, even by 21st century climate-changed standards. But we very well could see behavior on individual fires that matches/exceeds last year as vegetation is even drier than it was a year ago. And if we see any major dry lightning outbreaks in the next 5 months–watch out.

Major, possible record-breaking heatwave across NorCal Sun-Tues

Well, the cool weather reprieve is officially coming to an end. Strong high pressure will build along the West Coast this weekend, bringing a dome of very high 500mb geopotential heights and downward motion in the atmosphere. This will produce a very hot early season airmass over the NorCal interior that will try (with only modest success) to spread toward the coast. Monday and Tuesday will likely feature the first triple digit temperatures across the Central Valley this season, and some spots could approach 110 in the hotter locations. Many places will likely see their hottest Memorial Day on record across NorCal, and a handful of locations could even set new May monthly temperature records. This will be a pretty sudden transition from relatively mild to very hot temperatures in some places, so the potential for heat-related illness will be a bit higher than usual for temperatures of this magnitude as well.

SoCal will be warm, but not nearly so anomalously hot as NorCal and I don’t expect record temperatures in the southern part of the state during this event.

Read the rest of the weather report here.

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LincolnLady May 30, 2021 12:16 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Here's a thought. Use heritage seeds for crops grown in California. I read some years ago that genetically modified (GMO) seeds can create large crop yields, which can be good for small farmers. However, these same GMO seeds can use as much as 4X the water to produce these large crop yields as heritage seeds use. In California's current drought crisis, water usage has to be a much higher priority than crop yield.

PitMix Jun 01, 2021 07:32 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

I can't find any data to support your hypothesis. It does say that heirlooms do not all ripen at once so farmers would hate the complication that this introduces to their harvesting. I'm against industrial farming by large corporations but realize the practical aspects of the problem.

Byzantium May 30, 2021 11:55 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Ducks Unlimited protects water intensive rice farming - because the rice fields make for good duck hunting. Most of the rice production is also exported. Big Ag is like Big Gov. Stop buying unsustainable products and support tariffs that foster good domestic economic policy. But no, you cannot just confiscate private industry profits for your own preferred use. But you can work on eliminating special protections - the job for your local legislators to tackle. Both state and federal since both are involved in ag water supplies. Federal Central Valley Project and state Calif Water Project are the two big ones. For background and history (and politics) "The Cadillac Desert" is a very good read, though it is no longer current, but excellent for the long history of this state's relationship to water and politics.

Happy2BeSB May 30, 2021 09:48 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Drought is normal for California, but the data show that it is indeed extreme. Fuel and soil moistures are approaching record lows for this time of year. As Swain writes, the Sierra snowpack melt-out was exceptionally early. The length of California's wet season is also narrowing, making our current drought worse than the one in the late 70s.

Voice of Reason May 29, 2021 09:08 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Housing is less than 20% of water usage in the state. 80% is agriculture, which of course is necessary as we need to eat. What is not necessary is growing water intensive crops in California, then exporting those crops all over the world. Effectively exporting our water for profit, a profit that is had at least partially through antiquated state water laws that don’t encourage conservation for agriculture uses.

Bird May 30, 2021 10:13 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Overall residential use of water probably has not increased because there has been an intense effort to convince people to remove lawns and landscape with low water consumption. There's not much more savings that can be achieved with the existing population by those measures; apartment dwellers have little to no landscaping. But as population increases, as all that housing that Newsom and the Legislature want for newcomers, then overall water usage will increase.

Happy2BeSB May 30, 2021 09:42 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

One possible solution would be to tax profits on water-intensive crops and put that revenue directly into building more groundwater recharge basins. Warm heavy rain events like atmospheric rivers are becoming more common. It's critical to capture that runoff and recharge aquifers because less winter precip gets stored in the Sierra snowpack.

I don't know the degree to which in-state versus out-of-state companies control our water-intense agriculture. However, redirecting some of their profits into construction jobs for CA residents would help keep some of the profits here. Profits could be sheltered, though, so perhaps a surcharge on water used is more appropriate.

a-1622360467 May 30, 2021 12:41 AM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Ouch, your mention of Fiji! I get it.
Not to mention Nestle/Arrowhead.
In case readers don't know:

If any articles are paywall-limited, tons of news is out there, under "nestle arrowhead water news"

Citizens, neighborhood and all little people are being sold out.
By almond farmers too.

CA land sinking
"CORCORAN, Calif. — In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the farming town of Corcoran has a multimillion-dollar problem. It is almost impossible to see, yet so vast it takes NASA scientists using satellite technology to fully grasp.
Corcoran is sinking.
Over the past 14 years, the town has sunk as much as 11.5 feet in some places — enough to swallow the entire first floor of a two-story house and to at times make Corcoran one of the fastest-sinking areas in the country, according to experts with the United States Geological Survey.

Subsidence is the technical term for the phenomenon — the slow-motion deflation of land that occurs when large amounts of water are withdrawn from deep underground, causing underlying sediments to fall in on themselves."

ParvoPup May 29, 2021 10:16 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

And yet I keep coming across articles in the news about how high-value crops like almonds, pistachios, cotton and soybeans which are among the most water intensive crops keep being grown in this state.

Then to be told that the bulk of these crops are exported to other countries for high profits.

We are literally shipping our water over seas so a few corporate growers can continue being millionaires.

Who really needs almonds or pistachios to stay alive? Is this the best we can do with our dwindling supply of water?

Ooops - better go buy another case of water from Fiji....

a-1622349337 May 29, 2021 09:35 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

VOR, whom I very rarely if ever agree with, is correct.
I can't cite sources right now, but residential use has not increased in a decade or two.
Ag is using water and pumping groundwater, and enjoying the profit.
The state has had no control, and big bucks rule over all.
For background, search "news california agriculture water usage"
"news california sinking town"

I don't downplay the complexity. We need to have kids to create taxpayers. We need to decrease population and re-think population growth and growth as our economic salvation. How to balance these needs?!

Thanks again to the poster here who introduced me to Daniel Swain/Weather West. I urged Edhat to regularly post his updates. Thanks Edhat!

Shasta Guy May 29, 2021 09:06 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

The water levels at Lake Shasta are at risk of dropping to those of the 1977 drought. Then the lowest level was just above the penstock intakes to the hydroelectric generators. If it drops below that level this summer then California will lose a vital sorce of electricity.

yacht rocked May 29, 2021 06:21 PM
Weather West: Major Heatwave Across interior NorCal, Extreme Drought Continues

Das Williams is pushing new housing just outside the City of Carp boundary in the ag buffer zone at the end of Bailard Ave. 173 units. The traffic, schools, and services responsibility gets dumped on the City. Das, stop smoking the cannabis and don't destroy Carp Valley.

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