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Climate and Environment

It's Another Critically Dry Year After February Brings Little Rain

A dead Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park.
A dead Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park. (David McNew/Getty Images)
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The peak of California’s rainy season is supposed to run from December through February. Now that period's come to an end, we have a decent idea of where we’re at in terms of water across the state.

In short: It doesn’t look good for either the flammability of local landscapes or our big stores of water already stressed by previous dry years.

“It’s a critically dry year,” said Chris Orrock, public information officer with the California Department of Water Resources.

“We’re probably in one of the bottom ten driest years on record for the state,” he said.

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California's been quite dry through the 2020-2021 rainy season, raising the likelihood of wildfires. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The more rain that falls locally, the wetter our hills, and the longer we’re likely to stave off serious fire concerns. Those fire concerns haven’t really gone away, with elevated fire weather still a problem when strong Santa Ana’s roar through.

Look at the rain totals and you’ll see why. Downtown Los Angeles has received less than half of the rain it should've had by the end of February. And Ojai, a perennial fire concern, has only received about 25% of expected rainfall. Similar conditions are present through much of the region.

When it comes to water availability, it's the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River Basin, and our above-ground reservoirs that we should look at.

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While the storm in late January brought with it a good dumping of snow, we’re still only at 61% of normal snowpack across the Sierra. The Central and Northern portions are doing a bit better than the Southern Sierra, which is dragging the overall average down.

As of last week the Metropolitan Water District said that the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin – which melts, runs down the Colorado River and is fed to L.A. – is sitting at 87% of normal.

As for our reservoirs, while a wet 2019 replenished them and kept them topped up through a dry 2020, we’re now starting to see them drop.

Shasta, the largest federally managed reservoir is at only 68% of its historical average, while Oroville, the largest state run reservoir is at 55%.

The likelihood we’ll get enough precipitation to catch us up through March is thin with the next two weeks looking exceptionally dry.