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California drought unlikely to end this winter

Don’t hold your breath for California’s drought ending with this winter’s rains. Instead, you’d do well to hold your shower time to a minimum.

There’s less than a 40% chance of water supplies getting back to normal after this winter, with a slightly better than 50% chance that the state’s drought will worsen, according to forecasters at a Monday, Nov. 22, drought webinar hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information Center. The center is led by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The record atmospheric river storms that pelted Northern California in late October helped a bit, but water levels at major reservoirs remain far below normal and La Nina conditions increase the likelihood of Southern California having a drier, warmer winter than is usuall.

“The drought has been built over years. And autumn storms do not necessarily mean the rest of the winter will be wet,” said Amanda Sheffield, the region’s coordinator for the drought center.

All of California continues to experience moderate to exceptional drought, with 80% of the state at the two highest levels of “extreme” and “exceptional” drought. Southern California is marginally better off, with the greater Los Angeles area considered under a “severe” drought and San Diego labelled as having a “moderate” drought.

But while Southern California ranks a bit better than the rest of the state, it failed to get much direct benefit from October’s atmospheric river — aside from a dampening of brush to temporarily lower the risk of wildfire.

“We’re still relatively dry here and warmer than normal,” Sheffield said.

That’s expected to continue at least through December, thanks in part to La Nina, a weather pattern that typically includes warmer oceans, less precipitation in Southern California and more precipitation in Northern California.

While La Nina is expected to continue through the early winter and increase the chance of a warmer, drier Southern California, that forecast becomes less certain after the beginning of the year.

“These odds are really quite modest,” said Jon Gottschalck of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.

Drought emergency

The Metropolitan Water District, which manages Southern California’s water imports from Northern California and the Colorado Rivers, started off the year with more water in storage than ever before, thanks to increased storage capacity and increased conservation efforts. But while the drought has hit Northern and Central California the hardest, the southern part of the state also is starting to feel the effects of drought.

The California Department of Water Resources has said there would be no initial December allocation of water for Southern California from the State Water Project because of record low storage levels in the reservoirs that store water from Northern California. The Metropolitan Water District on Nov. 9 declared a drought emergency, focused particularly on six agencies spread across Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties that are dependent on the water from the state project.

But everyone is being asked to voluntarily cut back on water use.

“We’re reaching uncharted territory here and we need all Southern Californians to be part of the solution,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said when announcing the emergency. The district said the past two years have been the driest two-year sequence on record.

On the bright side, the October rain was a step toward moisturizing the soil in Northern California. The more water content in the soil when the snow starts melting next year, the more of that snowpack ends up in reservoirs and aqueducts rather than being soaked up by the ground.

“That could really help in the spring,” Sheffield said Monday.

But Sheffield was quick to follow that up with a warning: “It’s too early in the season to say how (the drought) will be impacted. It could take months to years to recover.”

Source: Orange County Register

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