Weather West: Modest April Showers, But Worsening Drought Continues

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

By Daniel Swain of Weather West

It’s really, really dry out there

I wish I could be writing that there was a late-season pattern reversal since my last post, with widespread drought-mitigating rains. Unfortunately, the reality has been nearly the opposite of that–the precipitation spigot has remained largely closed since the last blog update, and conditions have been quite warm at times (especially across inland areas). One exception has been along the immediate coast, where *below average* (!) ocean temperatures have allowed a strong marine layer to persist.

But these cool coastal temperatures have not helped mitigate the extraordinary rate of snowpack loss in the Sierra Nevada, which has apparently reached a record fast pace at many observing sites in recent weeks. CA’s DWR reports that snow water equivalent is now down to only 28% of average on a statewide basis–and there is essentially no meaningful snowpack remaining in the southern Sierra. All of this, combined with continued extremely low precipitation in recent weeks, has led to further worsening of already severe drought conditions, particularly across portions of NorCal. In fact, a state of “Drought Emergency” was declared this week for Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, and I would expect that declaration to continue to expand over the coming months as reservoir levels and water supplies already very low in some nearby places. (Marin County, for example, recently announced water use restrictions amidst one of its driest winters in a century.) Illustrating this, the Drought Monitor now indicates that a great majority of California is now experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions, and 100% of the state is at least “abnormally dry.”

April showers this weekend, courtesy of (former) Supertyphoon Surigae

There is a bit of good news in the very short term: precipitation will still likely fall this weekend, especially across northern California. This event will likely amount to a respectable soaking along the North Coast, Mendocino County, and the northern Sierra–all places that definitely need the water. To the south, some light rain is still likely as far south as the SF Bay Area and northern San Joaquin Valley–although totals here are likely to be pretty underwhelming, especially in rain-shadowed areas, and may not be enough to generate runoff. A decent amount of April snowfall–perhaps up to a foot in some high elevation areas–is expected across the northern Sierra as well. The Central Coast south to LA County looks to be in a gap in the expected precipitation, where little/no rain will likely fall, but far southern California (mainly San Diego County) could actually see a decent soaking as well (up to a half inch or so). All in all, welcomed water from the sky–but it will have only a transient effect on the worsening drought. In portions of NorCal that see a half inch or more of liquid, or snow, this event will probably pause fire season for a week or so–but is unlikely to have mitigating effects in the longer term.

Read the rest of the weather report here.

Daniel Swain

Written by Daniel Swain

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