Lackluster Rainy Season Leading to Worse Drought Conditions in California

Eric McNamee | | WeatherWeather
Cracked Earth and Sunset. Source: Chicago Policy Review

Article By SnowBrains Meteorologist – Eric McNamee

 2:20 PM MST, 3/30/2021

After a lackluster rainy season across California, there is a growing concern for drought conditions to worsen. Back at the beginning of the month, there was some optimism for a “Miracle March” since the overall setup was pretty active, with storms moving through the region every few days. But March has ended up being dry overall. To give some context of how dry it’s been, South Lake Tahoe, CA usually sees about 16″ of water in precipitation up to this point during the water year (Oct-Sep). This year, they have only seen 8.3″ of water:

South Lake Tahoe, CA Water Year Chart. Source: NWS Reno

Considering last year’s dry winter, it’s setting up for quite a dicey situation for California and the Southwest US in general. In Utah, the governor has already issued a ‘drought emergency declaration‘ for the entire state. This is because 90% of Utah is in extreme drought and 57% in exceptional drought. About 32% of Califonia is in extreme drought, and only 5% is in exceptional drought. I’m not sure if you will see these statewide emergency declarations in other states, but my guess is there will definitely be water restrictions across the West this summer.

Western US Drought Monitor. Source: NDMC/NOAA

If we want to look at the vegetation drought response index for California, it falls relatively in line with the drought map above. Vegetation closer to normal along the central coast is due to an Atmospheric River event in January.

California Vegetation Drought Response Index. Source: NDMC

Going forward, the biggest question is if California will see any relief? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be. Looking at global ensembles, most of the continental US will be anomalously dry through the first two weeks of April. A lot of places across the West see their wettest time of the year now. So, with the non-existent precipitation, drought conditions will worsen and spread… especially in California.

ECMWF Ensemble Precipitation Anomaly. Source:
US Seasonal Drought Outlook. Source: NOAA

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