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Has the Bay Area Gotten Enough Rain Yet?

| April 4, 2013
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Drizzle spoiled your Easter egg hunt. You stepped in puddles on your way to work on Thursday. And the petals fell off your drenched camellias. So, have we finally gotten enough rain?

Is Lake Oroville 85 percent full or 15 percent empty? What's more important is that it's at 108 percent of normal for the end of March. (Dan Brekke)

Is Lake Oroville 85 percent full or 15 percent empty? What’s more important is that it’s at 108 percent of normal for the end of March. (Dan Brekke)

Longtime Californians shake our heads at such questions. We know that it’s all about the snow pack, which hasn’t been good enough this year.

Actually, the situation is not bad, said Jan Null, a meteorologist at Golden Gate Weather Services.

Think back to November and December. A lot of water fell on the state in those months. And they followed two seasons in which precipitation was above normal: 2010-2011 was 128 percent of normal, and 2011-2012 was at 107 percent.

Then came this year. January, February and March were dry — the driest in records going back to the Gold Rush, said Null.

In  February the snow pack was at 93 percent of normal water content. By March it had dropped to 66 percent and in April it was down to 52 percent.

That’s not good. But a lot of the rain and snow from the previous two years is sitting in reservoirs still. “It’s not what most most water managers would call a dire situation,” Null said.

Are we facing a drought? That depends on whom you talk to. Some cattle ranchers might think so. Water managers with full reservoirs might feel otherwise.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a collaboration of federal and academic centers, is showing “abnormally dry” for most of the state, and “moderate drought” around the southern Sierra.

But at this point, no one is saying “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” or even “Shower with a friend.” Those slogans from the 1970s date from years when San Francisco was 15 inches below normal precipitation, Null said.

Right now we’re only about 5 inches below the 21.5-inch average.

And there’s more to come, perhaps Monday. Precipitation really does help in spring. And snow in the Sierra often goes along with rain in the Bay Area, so the water that fell on us Thursday was at least a sign of good things.

“Most water managers, especially in the Sierra, would — all other things being equal –much rather have snowfall in the later half of the year than in the first half,” said Null. “In the first half of the year some of the water evaporates, whereas if it comes later in the year it runs off directly into reservoirs.”

So there’s your silver lining.

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Category: Environment, News

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