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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Landscape

The Drought is Over

Meteorologists have made a significant forecast regarding the state of California: it will remain free from widespread drought at least until the end of 2025. This prediction follows a powerful blizzard that blanketed the mountains of northern and central California with over 80 inches of snow. The consecutive winters of heavy precipitation have been a much-needed boon in the ongoing battle against the previous years of heatwaves and insufficient rainy seasons that strained reservoirs and aquifers. Although the current wet season began sluggishly, the turn of 2024 brought rounds of mountain snow, bolstering the snowpack. A crucial moment forward came in early March when a blizzard deposited over 80 inches of snow in the Sierra Nevada.


The total water storage in the reservoirs plus the water that will be available from the snowpack is now way above normal. 


Rainfall is now over 200% of normal for all major Sierra regions and nearly 300% for the south Sierra area. Most of the key reservoirs in California are boasting water levels at or above historical averages. Forecasts indicate that these levels will continue to rise in the following weeks, with the possibility of more snow falling before the wet season concludes. As temperatures increase during spring and summer, melting snow will increase flows in creeks, streams, and ultimately, reservoirs. Some reservoirs may necessitate additional water releases to accommodate the influx of spring snowmelt.


The state has experienced flooding and highly saturated conditions from all the rain. River levels around California are generally very high, with many running above the 90th percentile. Now there are concerns about potential flooding. This will happen along creeks and streams, if warmer temperatures surpass historical averages and snowpack melting accelerates.


The surplus of rain and snow will reduce the overall wildfire risk in California this summer and fall.



El Niño vs. La Niña Winters

The subtropical branch of the jet stream is typically stronger during El Niño winters and can lead to above-normal rainfall in Central and Southern California. In winter, when the northern hemisphere cools down, the jet stream follows the sun south. A La Niña winter usually means dry, warmer-than-average conditions across the southern half of the country, including Southern California.


However, as seen in the past, a strong La Niña can mean wet, dry or near normal weather conditions in Northern California. “That's the problem with La Niña,” Craig Shoemaker, a National Weather Service meteorologist and climate program manager told The Sacramento Bee in October 2021. “We never know what to expect.”


The current El Niño phase MAY transition swiftly to La Niña before the next winter, increasing the likelihood of forthcoming dry conditions. Nonetheless, even a drier-than-average year is unlikely to spur long-term drought issues, given the resilience built over the last two winters.


Water management and conservation will continue to be important in California. What we need is for people to be mindful of how much water they use instead of leaving the water on announcing, “what does it matter? The drought is over!” Common sense conservation is paramount, as droughts are cyclical and will continue to be a part of California’s way of life. They don’t, however, need to be as dramatic.


Water is a crucial economic driver in California, supporting nearly half of the fruits and vegetables produced in the United States. The recent trend of abundant moisture and rising reservoir levels brings relief to farmers and ranchers across the state.

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