On Friday, moderate to heavy rain fell across Northern California. This will lead into the weekend which is expected to bring more stormy weather to the drought stricken state. It also raises concerns about flash flooding in large areas that have been scorched by wildfires.
According to the National Weather Service office in Medford (Oregon), a flood warning was issued in Siskiyou County, bordering Oregon. “Law local law enforcement reported debris flow, flooding on roadways from excessive runoff.”
Californians celebrated this week as big drops of water began falling from the skies. This is an annual soaking that marks the beginning of the rainy season after some of the hottest, driest months in history.
On Tuesday night, the rain started to fall and Gov. Gavin Newsom did something curious: He declared a state of emergency for drought and gave the regulators permission to put in place mandatory water restrictions throughout the state if they wish.
Newsom’s order may seem odd, considering that forecasters are predicting up to 7 inches (18 cm) of rain could fall in some areas of the Northern California Mountains and Central Valley this week. Experts say that it is sensible to consider drought as a result of climate change, and not weather.
California’s water supply has been dependent on snow and rain in winter for decades. This snow and rainfall then fills the state’s major streams and rivers in spring. These waters then feed massive systems of lakes that store water and allow for energy production, drinking, and farming. The annual runoff from mountains is decreasing, mainly because it’s becoming hotter and dryer, not because it rains less.
California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack was 60% lower than its historical average in spring 2015. The amount of water that reached the reservoirs was almost the same as 2015, when snowpack was only 5% of its historical mean. Nearly all the water that state officials expected to receive this year evaporated in the hotter air, or was absorbed by the drier soil. This dynamic is playing out across the dry Western U.S.
Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College geography professor and co-lead for the Drought Task Force at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that you don’t get into this kind of drought by… missing a few thunderstorms. Warm atmosphere evaporates more water off the land surface and reduces water availability for other uses like hydropower, people, and crop growing.
Through the week ahead, California is expected to see an increase in storm force throughout the state.
The National Weather Service stated that “By Saturday night a rapidly intensifying Pacific Cyclone directing a strong atmospheric river squarely at California’s West Coast delivers an intense firehose of rich subtropical humidity into California.” “Snow levels will drop to cover the Sierra Nevada with heavy snow on Sunday, while rainy periods will soak the coasts and valleys of central and northern California.”
On Monday, precipitation will spread to Southern California.
Rain has prevented some of the country’s most destructive wildfires, including one that threatened the Lake Tahoe resort area this summer. Officials announced Wednesday night that the fire was now completely contained by storms covering the western side with snow and rain falling on the eastern.
The state expects so much snow that Mammoth Mountain Ski Area near Yosemite National Park announced that it will open for the season two week early on October 29. California’s climate is changing and the snowfall and rain are just drops in the ocean.
California’s “wateryear” runs from October 1 through Sept 30. The 2021 wateryear, which just ended in, was the second-driest ever recorded. The previous one was the fifth driest. Record low levels are being recorded at some of the state’s most valuable reservoirs. Lake Mendocino is in such dire straits that officials from the state fear it will be dry next summer.
California may have more snow and rain than average this winter but the warming temperatures will not be enough to compensate for all of the water California has lost. California’s highest ever monthly average temperature was recorded in June, July, and October 2020.
Jeanine Jones, interstate resource manager at the California Department of Water Resources said that people shouldn’t think of drought as something that happens occasionally and then it turns back into a wetter system.
She stated that “we are transitioning to a dryer system so, you can know, dry becomes our new normal.” Drought is not a temporary feature. Droughts can take time to develop and often linger for a long time.”
Water regulators have already enjoined farmers and large users to stop using water from the state’s major rivers, streams, and lakes. Water restrictions could become mandatory for regular citizens.
Newsom asked people in July to reduce their water consumption by 15%. People cut down 3.5% in July and August. Tuesday’s executive order by Newsom gave state regulators the authority to impose restrictions on people washing cars, cleaning driveways and sidewalks with water, and even filling fountains.
Officials from the state have warned water agencies that they may not be able to get water from the state’s reservoirs this coming year. At least, not initially. This will prove very difficult, according to Dave Eggerton, executive director of Association of California Water Agencies.
He said that he believes Californians can start conserving water more quickly with help from a statewide conservation program, which will include messages placed on electronic signs along busy highways.
He said, “It’s going be happen.” “People are beginning to understand the message and want to do their bit.”