State drought re­port shows dry ar­eas ex­pand­ing

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Rogers

Fol­low­ing another week with­out rain — and none fore­cast through the end of this month across North­ern Cal­i­for­nia — the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on Thurs­day an­nounced that un­usu­ally dry con­di­tions are ex­pand­ing across a wider swath of Cal­i­for­nia’s land­scape, in­creas­ing con­cerns about

sum­mer fire risk and the pos­si­ble re­turn of at least a mod­est drought this year.

Over­all, 59.9% of the state’s land area is now clas­si­fied as “ab­nor­mally dry,” up from 46.1% last week, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor, a weekly re­port is­sued by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and the Univer­sity of Ne­braska-Lin­coln.

All nine Bay Area coun­ties are now clas­si­fied as ab­nor­mally dry. So are places that have suf­fered dev­as­tat­ing fires in re­cent years: Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Men­do­cino coun­ties. With­out sig­nif­i­cant rain in March or April, fire dan­ger in those ar­eas and other parts of the state will be higher than nor­mal again this sum­mer.

“Given what we’ve seen so far this year and the fore­cast for the next few weeks, I do think it’s pretty likely we’ll end up in some de­gree of drought by this sum­mer,” said Daniel Swain, a cli­mate sci­en­tist at UCLA, on Thurs­day.

Swain noted, how­ever, that the state is equipped to han­dle one-year droughts pretty well with­out ma­jor wa­ter short­ages be­cause of wa­ter stored in reser­voirs, ground­wa­ter wells and con­ser­va­tion.

It’s when dry con­di­tions per­sist for sev­eral years, as they did dur­ing the state’s his­toric drought from 2012 to 2017 that prob­lems arise.

“As­sum­ing this year ends dry, which is pretty likely,” Swain said, “the ques­tion is what hap­pens next year?”

Of note in Thurs­day’s fed­eral re­port: The area of Cal­i­for­nia where ab­nor­mally dry con­di­tions are now present is 14 mil­lion acres larger than it was last week, a land­scape 44 times the size of Los An­ge­les.

“The plants and the forests don’t ben­e­fit from the wa­ter stor­age reser­voirs,” Swain said. “If con­di­tions re­main very dry head­ing into sum­mer, the land­scape and veg­e­ta­tion is def­i­nitely go­ing to feel it this year. From a wild­fire per­spec­tive, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, es­pe­cially in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.”

Last year, fol­low­ing a wet Fe­bru­ary and March, the state ex­pe­ri­enced a mild fire year, with high mois­ture lev­els in grasses, shrubs and trees — a wel­come de­par­ture from prior years when ma­jor fires dev­as­tated Napa and Sonoma County, along with the town of Par­adise in Butte County.

Al­to­gether, Thurs­day’s re­port noted, 58% of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion, or 21.7 mil­lion peo­ple, are cur­rently liv­ing in ar­eas that are in mod­er­ate drought or are ab­nor­mally dry.

The amount of the state in “mod­er­ate drought,” a more se­ri­ous cat­e­gory, re­mained the same this week as last week, at 9.5%. But that’s ex­pected to in­crease if the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice’s dry fore­cast for the next two weeks bears out.

The rea­son for the dry con­di­tions is a per­sis­tent weather pat­tern that is send­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s rain to­ward Seat­tle.

“High pres­sure off the Cal­i­for­nia coast kept much of Cal­i­for­nia, Nevada, Ari­zona, and Utah pre­cip­i­ta­tion-free this week, with above-nor­mal tem­per­a­tures in Cal­i­for­nia,” wrote David Miskus, a NOAA me­te­o­rol­o­gist and au­thor of Thurs­day’s drought re­port.

“In­stead, Pa­cific storm sys­tems were de­flected north­ward or south­ward, al­low­ing the Pa­cific North­west to re­ceive wel­come mois­ture.”

The area in mod­er­ate drought Thurs­day, the dri­est in Cal­i­for­nia, was in the Cen­tral Val­ley, cov­er­ing roughly 10 mil­lion acres from Tuolumne County to Kern County.

The new re­port does not mean, how­ever, that Cal­i­for­nia is head­ing back into the kind of se­vere drought that the state ex­pe­ri­enced from 2012 to 2017.

There is still another month in the state’s rainy sea­son. And Cal­i­for­nia has had very wet “Mir­a­cle March” con­di­tions in years past.

By com­par­i­son, five years ago, on the week of Feb. 17, 2015, an over­whelm­ing 98% of the state was in at least a mod­er­ate drought, and 41% was in ex­cep­tional drought, the most se­vere of the five cat­e­gories used in the re­port. That drought was bro­ken by a series of mas­sive at­mo­spheric river, or “Pineap­ple Ex­press,” storms that roared in off the Pa­cific in early 2017 and caused flood­ing in down­town San Jose and the col­lapse of the spill­way at Oroville Dam in Butte County.

This win­ter sea­son, although Cal­i­for­nia ex­pe­ri­enced some de­cent rain­fall around Thanks­giv­ing and into De­cem­ber, the storms all but shut down af­ter the New Year, and Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary have been un­usu­ally warm and dry.

Just one day in 2020 so far, Jan. 16, has had enough rain to bring at least 1 inch to San Fran­cisco, Oak­land and San Jose.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.