Northern California storm may be too late for ‘Miracle March’

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Winter dry spells are nothing new in California, but when they normalize, March is the last resort for precipitation.

CALIFORNIA, USA – The longest winter drought streak has finally been broken after 66 days, breaking the previous winter record of 52 days set in 2013-2014.

On March 15, the rain finally arrived. The last significant rainfall was on January 7, 2022 in downtown Sacramento. Now that the rains have returned, is there enough to save the current drought situation?

Another storm is expected to arrive March 18-19, bringing potentially higher rain and snow totals to Northern California. Even with this approaching storm, it may be a bit too late.

Snowmaking officer Sean De Guzman of the Department of Water Resources said the state would need 28 inches of snow water to bring the state back to average. Right now, collectively, the state is around 16 inches. That means the state would need 12 inches of snowfall from March through early May to reach the average.

California’s Mediterranean climate brings very dry, hot summers and cooler but wet winters. The fluctuations of climate change make the years variable. Summers extended and brought fires through November and December with little or no rain. Meanwhile, the winter months were short-lived.

April 1 is the peak of the snowpack and is generally a deadline for California climatologists. If thunderstorms pass, they usually bring less rain. The Department of Water Resources uses April 1 as the water average due to infrequent thunderstorms.

With a wonderful start to the year of water in October and heavy snowstorms in December, the last rainless months have made it harder for researchers to predict snowpack runoff during the summer months.

“With climate change, we don’t know how much the drought has been affected in the last two months, maybe those soils have dried up. But you know, time will tell once we get to the end of summer, how much water actually fills those reservoirs,” De Guzman said.

Even with a solid snowpack, without wet ground, we often lose much of our snowpack to runoff. Much of it is absorbed by the trees and also lost through evaporation.

De Guzman says we would need our snow depth to be around 60 inches to bring that 28 inches of snow water equivalent. The water equivalent of snow varies with each storm and where it is coming from. Colder storms hold water better and longer. Hotter storms are often lost to runoff.

Either way, De Guzman says we’re so behind at this point that the odds are stacked against us getting back to normal and coming out of the drought.

“We could actually have about an average March once we get through March. But adding the average to well below average over the past two months, it will still equate to below average conditions” , said De Guzman.

Valley rain will break record 2-month dry streak | California drought

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