Despite recent storm, California’s ‘drought map’ depicts same bleak outlook


The U.S. Drought Monitor's map of California for March 6, 2018 indicated that 91 percent is abnormally dry, 48 percent is moderately dry, 22 percent is in severe drought and .43 percent is in extreme drought. Photo: U.S. Drought Monitor

Despite the recent storm that pummeled the Sierra with snow and scattered rain in the valleys and along the coast, California remains unseasonably dry with 47 percent of the state experiencing at least “moderate drought” conditions, according to the federal government’s Drought Monitor.

The storm hailed by meteorologists as “the season’s biggest” gave the snowpack a little boost and ski slopes lots of fresh powder with many resorts reporting more than 7 feet of snow in the first week of March. But seasonal totals remain well below normal and the new drought map released Thursday reveals no change in the unusual dry conditions that have mired the mountain range for several months.

Meteorologist Jan Null isn’t surprised the storm had little impact in the state’s overall water picture.

“What we got was lots and lots of powder,” says Null, who has his own private consulting firm called Golden Gate Weather Services. “Big, fluffy snow flakes that don’t really have much water content.”

Null emphasized his point with the latest numbers from the Eight Station Index that measures the amount of precipitation (rainfall and water content in the snow) in the northern Sierra and is used to help determine the status of Northern California’s water supply.

The index stood at 19.92 inches before March 1 and the recent precipitation in the first week of March bumped it up to 24.06.

“That’s about 4 inches,” he says. “Normally you would have in that same time period about 2.2 inches of water equivalent. We only got more than 2 inches above normal. That’s not very much.”

What’s more, for the index to be at a normal reading for this time of year, the storm would have needed to boost the index up by 16 inches and Null says the amount of snow to reach that level would have been catastrophic.

The Drought Monitor is a joint effort among the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A map is released each week with drought conditions across the country, indexing several factors including precipitation, river levels and soil moisture.

State Climatologist Mike Anderson with the California Department of Water Resources says the map is mainly used “for rangeland ag support through the USDA and may not capture the nuance of different conditions present in California for different sectors.”

The map from the week before the storm is nearly the same from the one after, with 91 percent of the state continuing to be abnormally dry in the latter map.

The portion of the state in severe drought bumped up a nudge on Thursday’s map, from 20 percent to 22 percent, and a small area in part of Ventura and adjacent Los Angeles Counties is now in extreme drought.

The driest conditions are in the southern part of the state where rainfall totals are well below normal for the season. Most of Northern California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, is abnormally dry. A small sliver (8 percent of the state) along the north coast remains normal.


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