California Storms Assist Relieve Drought, However How A lot Is in Query
If you’re looking for a silver lining to the grueling storms sweeping California, then look no further than the state’s snowpack.
On Tuesday, California mountain snow contained more than twice the water content considered average for this time of year, the Times’ Mike Ives reported. That’s important, because as the Sierra Nevada’s snow melts in the warmer months, it typically provides about 30 percent of California’s water supply.
“With snow cover as it is right now, about 200 percent for most of the Sierra Nevada, that’s a great thing for California,” said Chris Hintz, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office, Wednesday.
With news of the replenished snowpack, you may be wondering what impact the recent storms will have on the current drought, which began in 2020 and has spanned the three driest years on record in the state. Could these downpours be enough to end our dry spell?
Well, experts say the atmospheric fluxes hitting the Golden State will no doubt help, but probably won’t be enough to fully reverse the drought.
“These storms are really good news, and they’re exactly the news we need at this time, but we still have a long way to go,” said Alex Hall, the director of the Center for Climate Science at UCLA. “We would need a few wet years in a row in California to feel like we’ve weathered the drought here.
In short, one major storm (or even six) isn’t enough to reverse years of minimal rainfall and rising temperatures. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist also at UCLA, compared the storms to dousing a neglected potted plant: The water, while welcome, cannot be fully absorbed at once, will not eliminate future water needs, and will not necessarily repair all of the damage caused by the neglect have arisen.
“You can’t just dump a ton of water on the ground and expect ecosystems to magically recover or groundwater to magically recover,” Swain told me.
Water supplies to many of the state’s largest reservoirs, including Shasta and Oroville, remain below historical averages for this time of year. And we don’t know what comes after these atmospheric fluxes subside, which is expected to begin late next week.
California’s rainiest months are typically December through February, but there’s no guarantee the rain will last until the end of the rainy season. The remainder of 2023 could be very dry, resulting in an average water year overall despite these torrential storms. “It wouldn’t be unprecedented for us to have very little rainfall in the coming months following this storm sequence,” Hall told me.
More on California
- A missed opportunity: California downpours could have been saved for future droughts. But water officials and experts say state bureaucracy designed to allocate water fairly has got in the way.
- Bruce’s Beach: The Bruce family won restitution of an oceanfront property near Los Angeles that had been confiscated from their relatives, two black entrepreneurs, nearly a century ago. Her decision to sell the land for $20 million sparked a new debate about reparations.
- State of emergency Covid: The state’s coronavirus emergency declaration, which gave Gov. Gavin Newsom sweeping powers to slow the spread of the virus, expires on February 28.
- After the tragedy: California reels after back-to-back mass shooting in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay.
Even if the drought ends, it probably won’t stay that way for long if California’s recent climate history is any guide, The Times’ Henry Fountain reported.
According to the US Drought Monitor, the state has had four prolonged droughts this century – 2001-04, 2007-09, 2012-16 and the current one. Between each of these droughts, there was only a few years of wet weather—often extremely wet weather, as is happening now.
“What we’re seeing is what I and others refer to as whiplash,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, a research organization specializing in water issues. “We don’t seem to get average years anymore.”
tell us: How are the storms affecting you? Email us with your stories and photos at CAToday@nytimes.com.
Where we are traveling
Today’s tip comes from Liz DiMarco Weinmann:
“My favorite places in California are the Sonoma and Napa wine regions, San Francisco and the Carmel/Monterey region. I love Carmel/Monterey so much I convinced my husband that we need to spend the whole of February (65 degrees most days, sunny oh yes) there – instead of the miserable, cold, gray, snowy Northeast, where we live.
We’re at the point in our career where we can work anywhere, so we’re coming to Carmel. I’ve already put aside my sherbet sweaters, lightweight leggings and comfy kicks. I even scheduled my New York haircuts in December and January around my departure date. We get pushed out of the wazoo. We will do it!”
Tell us about your favorite places in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Thousands of people descend on Cypress, an Orange County suburb, hoping to catch a glimpse of a bird of prey that has mysteriously made its way far from home.
The snowy owl’s natural habitat is the inhospitable frozen wilderness of the high arctic tundra. But one has appeared on the palm-lined streets of Southern California. “It’s like seeing Santa Claus on the beach,” Nancy Caruso, a neighbor who saw the owl, told The Times. “So out of place but cool.”
From time to time the owl, which first appeared in November, goes out to look for a rat or a gopher under the night sky. But the owl keeps coming back.
“It’s the last thing on earth you’d expect there,” David Bell, a Los Angeles Birders board member who found himself among the crowd of people marveling at the animal when it first appeared, told SFGate. “You think to yourself that it can’t possibly be real, and then it spins its head. Yes, it’s real.”
Thank you for reading. I will come back tomorrow. — Soumya
PS Here is today’s mini crossword.
Briana Scalia, Isabella Grullón Paz and Shivani Gonzalez have contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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