For California, 'Dry January' Is Not A Personal Challenge, But A Climate Crisis
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.”
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is crucial to California's water supply, has experienced record mid-winter snowmelt over the last 4 weeks.— US StormWatch (@US_Stormwatch) January 28, 2022
This is California's peak wet season when the snowpack is supposed to grow rapidly, but in fact, the exact opposite has happened. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/V2ZicUOFoP
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.
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.