Year ends drier than normal, but it’s too soon to declare drought’s back
In a state where dead trees in the Sierra Nevada still stand as a testament to a severe seven-year stretch of dry weather that ended in 2017, some nervously wonder whether the state may slide back into a drought.
In the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator, ocean temperatures are pretty stable. That means there’s no El Niño or La Niña sitting out there to help drive a chain of storms to dump rainfall on the Valley and snow in the Sierra Nevada as the calendar closes on 2018.
“We suffered through a long, hot, dry summer and fall,” said Kevin Lynott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We caught up a little bit in November and December, but not enough to bring us to normal precipitation for the year.”
As of Friday, Fresno had received 8.65 inches of rainfall – more than 2 inches less than the normal yearly precipitation of 11.22 inches, Lynott said. Merced got about 1.5 inches of rain for the month, about a quarter-inch more than a normal year.
And things aren’t looking to get much better anytime soon. “We’re expecting a drier pattern at least through the first half of January. … We think the pattern might change in late January or February, and we’re looking for more near-normal or slightly above normal in February and into March.”
“But it’s very safe to say the next few weeks we’re going to be pretty dry. It doesn’t look like we’re going to have a banner year like we did two years ago,” Lynott added.
In the hills east of Fresno, Pine Flat Reservoir is at only about 29 percent of its million-acre-foot capacity, while Millerton Lake is just over half full. A little further north, east of Merced, Lake McClure is about 55 percent full, while Don Pedro Reservoir is at 69 percent of its capacity of more than 2 million acre-feet.
And in Northern California, the state’s two largest reservoirs are less than half full.
It’s not so much the current storage in the lakes that’s an issue so much as the