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Climate and Environment

For California, 'Dry January' Is Not A Personal Challenge, But A Climate Crisis

An image of a creek running between drifts of snow. Snow-capped mountains and green pine trees are in the background.
Snow melts into a creek that flows into the South Fork American River, about 90 miles east of Sacramento.
(Kenneth James
/
California Department of Water Resources)
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You’ve probably heard about December’s epic rain and snow. But it hasn’t done much to ease the drought, according to state water officials. That may have you feeling some whiplash, and you’re not alone — you're experiencing climate change in action.

“This water year in many ways has been exactly that poster child of a big challenge with today's climate and how it's changed from 15, 20, 30 years ago,” said David Rizzardo, manager of the hydrology program with the California Department of Water Resources. “We're on this roller coaster ride.”

Even with the amount of rain and snow we got in December, January’s dryness has left the state at about 57% of where water officials hope the snowpack will be by April. Snowpack provides about one-third of California’s drinking water. The state's wet season generally lasts from October to April, but we tend to get more than half of our yearly precipitation between December and February.

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A topographical overview of California shows percentages of normal snowpack for this time of year.
Regional snowpack measurements as of Feb. 2, 2022.
(Courtesy California Dept. of Water Resources)

Instead of more moderate and regular storms throughout the wet season, the climate crisis is spurring fewer, but more intense storms, like the one we had in December, Rizzardo said. That’s punctuated by longer periods of extreme dryness, like we had last month. There’s some rain in the forecast for February, but officials predict it will be a dry month, too.

That roller coaster ride will be our new normal if the climate crisis continues at its current pace. That makes it tough for water managers, who rely on trends for forecasting and making decisions about how to ensure our water supply.

“It’s taken our models and it's whipping it all over the place,” said Rizzardo. “There needs to be some trend to follow and the only trend we have right now is up and down, up and down. So it makes it really hard.”

The state, L.A. County and the city of L.A. all have water restrictions that remain in effect due to the drought.

Climate Emergency Questions
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