An atmospheric river flowed over northern California in January. My home town of Los Altos (near San Francisco) received 5.4″ of rain in January, with measurable rain on 17 out of 31 days.
Northern California reservoirs are full, and the snowpack in our mountains is above normal. Therefore, California’s water distribution system has water to distribute to urban users and farmers, but our forests and fish have not recovered from the drought. Southern California still hasn’t received much rain, but our aqueducts will transport water south. Our filled reservoirs will enable the state to generate more hydroelectric power, reducing fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide generation.
Visiting San Francisco between January storms, we saw this juvenile, red-tailed hawk hovering in the wind near the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind blew from the ocean, hit the cliffs, and swept upward — enabling the hawk to hover in the wind. The hawk’s tail is pointing down to provide additional lift, just as airplanes extend their flaps when landing and taking off. The hawk is peering down at the surf, scanning for food. Below, the hawk is near the bridge.
Our town received 5.4″ of rain, nearly twice as much our January average. Comparing the actual rain (red bars) to the average rain (blue bars), notice that our rainfall is sporadic — our scant rainfall is determined by highly variable atmospheric rivers that we don’t understand or control.
After the January storms, we’ve received two-thirds (67%) of our normal rainfall since January 2013, up five percent from December. However, our rainfall since January 2013 is still more than 22″ of rain less than our normal rain. This is almost a year and a half of our normal rainfall.
With all the storms, January daytime highs were cooler than normal, but we haven’t had any killing frosts this winter.
After the January rains, the northern half of California is out of the drought, a dramatic improvement.
This drought assessment seems to understate the long-term drought. Researchers at the University of Colorado concluded that “recent storms recouped 37 percent of California’s five-year snow-water deficit“, comparing the water shortfall during the previous five years to the current water and snow.
Storms are continuing so our water situation should hopefully improve. Regardless of our rainfall this year, California will have to deal with long-term damage to our groundwater and forests.
“California pumped huge amounts of groundwater to keep people and crops hydrated during the drought, depleting what is essentially a water savings account.” Recharging our aquifers will take decades, if we are ever successful. As our reservoirs top off and water is released, some farmers are flooding their fields to recharge aquifers they pump most of the year.
California will have to deal with “102 million trees are dead or dying in the state” due to “drought, wildfires and a beetle infestation”.
Light rain is forecast for the coming week. 🙂