Year ends drier than nor­mal, but it’s too soon to de­clare drought’s back

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Atwater Signal - BY TIM SHEE­HAN tshee­[email protected]­

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

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