Sick of rain? But wait, there’s more

Back-to-back water years are wettest for L.A. since late 1800s, and a new system looms off the coast.

After a comparatively dry fall in Southern California, there was a point last December when it seemed like the fears of a strong, wet El Niño winter may have been overblown.

So much for that.

In a matter of weeks, a succession of powerful storms flipped the script, dumping a stream of record-setting, intense rainfall across California, much of it on the state’s southwestern region.

That wet pattern has continued as winter has given way to spring, with this past weekend’s storm dumping up to 4 inches of rain in some areas — pushing Los Angeles to a new two-year rain total not seen since the late 1800s and forestalling any hope for a quick end to the rainy season.

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As of Monday morning, downtown Los Angeles had received 52.46 inches of rain in the latest two water years, the second-highest amount in recorded history. The only other two-year October-through-September period — the period for the so-called water year — that saw more rain was from 1888 through 1890, according to the National Weather Service.

“When you consider the records since 1877 in downtown L.A. … the second [largest total] is hugely significant,” said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “We’re obviously way, way, way above normal for two years in a row now. For a dry climate like the Los Angeles area, it’s huge.”

And there’s probably more on the way. A low-pressure system is brewing off the California coast, expected to move inland later this week, weather officials said, driving above-average precipitation forecasts for much of the state through April 10.

Nor do forecasters expect that storm to close out the wet season, with the long-range forecast for April favoring slightly-above-average precipitation in Southern California, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

“We don’t think it’s the end of the rainy season yet,” said Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. He said a wetter pattern should linger through April and maybe into early May, fueled by the last vestiges of an El Niño-Southern Oscillation — the climate pattern in the tropical Pacific that tends to drive wetter weather in California.

The current El Niño is transitioning to a more neutral pattern, and a La Niña is expected to take over by the summer, bringing typically cooler and drier weather. But because the atmosphere tends to lag behind the changes to the Pacific’s surface temperatures, Artusa said, “we’re seeing an extension of these [El Niño] effects even later on into April.”

Indeed, this year’s soggy winter was in many ways a “canonical” El Niño event — particularly because most of the storms arrived in late winter and are continuing through spring, according to Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“El Niño and La Niña signals typically kick in — when they do kick in, because it’s not always the case — in January, February, March, and that’s exactly the part of the year that was anomalously wet this year,” he said.

However, not all of the wet weather can be attributed to El Niño. Last year’s soaking storms occurred during a La Niña event, and Gershunov noted that some of the state’s wettest years this century have occurred during La Niña years, which also included 2011 and 2017.

“In all of these cases, atmospheric river activity was extremely strong,” he said. “What we are finding out is that atmospheric rivers don’t always dance to the tune of [El Niño], and they can make or break” the textbook El Niño pattern.

This latest Easter weekend storm caused some freeway flooding, brought brief hail and dropped 2 to 4 inches of rain across the region, with some mountain areas hitting totals closer to 5 inches, according to the weather service. It was far from the strongest storm this rainy season, but it still brought impressive rain totals: 2.1 inches in downtown L.A., 4.67 inches in Lytle Creek, 4.09 near Lynwood, 3.92 in Compton and 3.54 in Stunt Ranch.

The heaviest and most widespread rain fell from late Friday into early Saturday, setting several daily rainfall records for March 30, including in downtown L.A. with 1.73 inches, Long Beach with 1.86 inches and Palmdale with 1.12 inches. Snowfall totals hit 22 inches in Green Valley Lake, 14 inches in Snow Valley and 10 inches in Big Bear City, according to the National Weather Service.

Last month, though, daily rainfall totals more than doubled the March 30 records when a deadly atmospheric river stormwalloped the Southland and much of the Golden State, triggering hundreds of mudslides, significant flooding and destruction. That system dumped 4.1 inches of rain on downtown L.A. in one day, making Feb. 4 the wettest day in February history.

That system followed a string of strong storms that brought significant rains and severe flash flooding in some areas. Most notably, in late December, a month’s worth of rain fell in less than an hour and inundated Oxnard. Then in January in San Diego, historic rainfall filled one-story homes, turned roads into rivers and forced rooftop rescues.

“We’ve had a number of very heavy, high-intensity rainfall events,” Sirard said.

With more rain on the horizon for Southern California, Sirard said he wouldn’t be surprised if this two-year period ends up the wettest in City of Angels history, as the current count is less than 2 inches short of the all-time record, 54.1 inches, which fell from 1888 to 1890.

“We actually have a very decent chance of setting the all-time record,” Sirard said.

Last year became the seventh-wettest water year in L.A.’s history with 31.07 inches falling from Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. National Weather Service meteorologists consider 14.25 inches the area’s normal annual rainfall, making last year’s total more than 200% of average. With six months left to go, this water year has recorded 21.39 inches, currently the 22nd wettest in recorded history.

This year’s wet winter may also have broader climate impacts, Gershunov said, including potential effects on the coming wildfire season. Mountain and forest ecosystems will probably see less fire activity because late winter and spring snowpack tends to melt gradually, promoting wetter soils and less combustible vegetation in the summertime.

On the other hand, anomalous precipitation in coastal ecosystems — such as the strong storms that fell this winter and spring in Los Angeles and San Diego — are promoting the growth of new grasses and other light plants that could potentially feed flames.

“All of that is going to be dry when the coastal fall wildfire season rolls around with the onset of Santa Ana winds next October,” Gershunov said.

And while this year seemed to follow the El Niño playbook, he noted that the climate pattern doesn’t always live up to the hype, such as the El Niño of 2015-16, which was billed as a monster event that ultimately produced average precipitation in California. In fact, when measured on a statewide basis, precipitation is hovering just around average this year, with 20.9 inches since the start of the water year on Oct. 1, or about 107% of average for the date, state data show.

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California drought bummer: Sierra water runoff coming up short

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

The El Niño-fueled storms that coated the Sierra with nearly normal snow this winter brought blasts of hope to drought-weary California.

But after the flurries stopped and the seasons changed, the melt-off from the high country has been swift and disappointingly scant, according to new water supply estimates from the state.

The Department of Water Resources now projects that the mountains will produce about three quarters of normal runoff during the months of heaviest snowmelt, shorting the rivers and reservoirs that typically provide a third of California’s water — and cementing a fifth year of historic drought for the Golden State.

The projections arrive alongside forecasts for potentially dry La Niña weather next winter. And they come as cities and towns face a crucial deadline for deciding how much water to ask consumers to save in the coming year as part of the state’s broader conservation effort. …

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California’s largest reservoir filling too fast thanks to El Nino, must release more water

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The El Niño-fueled storms that have swept through Northern California in recent weeks have swelled some of the state’s largest reservoirs to encouraging levels even as the state’s drought persists.

One of the biggest beneficiaries has been Lake Shasta, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley project, which serves California growers.

To make room in Shasta for water from last weekend’s storms, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation ramped up releases from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second on March 18. It was the first time since 2011 that the bureau released water into the upper Sacramento River at such a rapid rate, said spokesman Shane Hunt.

Officials began slowing the releases again on Wednesday, Hunt said. The rate is expected to return to around …

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Rain, snow making a dent in California’s historic drought

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The rain and snow falling across Northern California in recent days is by no means extraordinary. In the Sacramento region, precipitation remains below normal for the season. But inch by inch, forecasters say, it’s doing the work necessary if California is to reverse years of epic drought.

Since Friday, a series of storms have dropped close to 2.5 inches of rain in Sacramento, helping replenish reservoirs drained to historic lows last summer. More importantly, the storms have added to the snowpack blanketing the Sierra, a stark contrast to last year, which dawned with the state’s driest January in more than 100 years.

The last few days have brought more than 2 feet of snow to the high Sierra, even as warmer-than-average temperatures are resulting in rainfall at lower elevations. …

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CA snowpack 136% of normal! How will water rationers spin that?!

Photo by Brian van der Brug as appearing in LA Times.

Photo by Brian van der Brug as appearing in LA Times.

California’s recent wet weather has not only added more than 6.4 billion gallons of fresh water to Lake Tahoe, raising the entire lake level by 2 inches, but now according to recent news reports, has produced so much new snow that it is considered “136% of normal” according to state officials.  On Wednesday, state workers measured the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada at 54 inches.  So the question is, how will the state’s “water rationers” react now?

What you can expect them to say is the “drought is not over.”  And perhaps it isn’t quite yet, but given the current conditions, and with San Francisco and other parts of the state bracing for record “king tides” as a result of the appearance soon of the first “El Niño” weather conditions as predicted by NASA (caused by a pocket of warming in the Pacific Ocean that will force precipitation towards us), expected throughout early 2016, perhaps now is indeed the time for policymakers to start thinking more optimistically, even about plans for lifting water rationing in the state, and for regulators to start planning on loosening up on water controls.

The mountain snowpacks provide a whopping 30% of California’s water, and experts consider the current snowpack to contain twice as much water as at the same time last year.  Rain obviously provides plenty of water as well, and in a typical El Niño year, rainfall in California is also doubled.  And the experts say that the El Niño has not even “kicked-in” yet!

So, perhaps Californian’s will soon have plenty of water to be thankful for in 2016!

El Niño: Federal officials warn Californians to prepare for onslaught

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

With El Niño bearing down, federal emergency officials on Wednesday issued their strongest warnings yet, urging Californians to prepare for the predicted onslaught of storms by taking immediate steps that could save lives and property.

“It is critical that citizens take the risk seriously,” said Bob Fenton of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who led an emergency response drill with regional agencies in Sacramento on Wednesday.

If this El Niño mimics the winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98, as expected, Bay Area counties face a trifecta of flood risk: seasonally high “king tides,” storm-induced surges near beaches, and rising rivers along flood plains, experts said. Already, sea levels are higher than normal, due to El Niño’s warm ocean temperatures. …

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Is CA ready for El Niño.

CA RainThe anticipation is building. Stories and news reports are popping up everywhere. Predictions and expectations fill coffee shops and social media. No, I’m not talking about the 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles. I am talking about El Niño. And, chances are that it will arrive this winter along with plenty of precipitation.

The winter months in California provide us with the rain and snow to support our way life for the whole year. As the eighth largest economy in the world, the most productive agricultural region in the country, and home to the technological revolution and millions of middle class families looking to live a free and prosperous life, California needs a secure and abundant water supply.

Unfortunately, four years of historic drought and decades of mismanaged water policy have threatened our water supply so much that communities are forced to ration usage. Some even have to rely on donated water because their supplies have been completely depleted. And beyond the humanitarian and economic hardship this drought has caused, our environment has also been impacted. Today, our soil is dry and our forests are thinned by the twin problems of fire and drought.

So it isn’t a surprise that predictions of El Niño were initially met with the hope that our drought might finally subside.

And with good reason.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the current El Niño in the Pacific Ocean has a 95 percent chance of continuing through the 2015–2016 winter. NOAA goes on to state that this could be a strong El Niño, bringing heavy and much-need precipitation to our parched state in northern, central, and southern California.

Originally published at Medium. To read the rest of the article go here.

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