Friday, January 24, 2014

East Coast Snow, Cold Getting The Attention But Real Weather Story Is In California

I'm sure you've seen on the news the images of cold snaps, sudden snowstorms and wind and subzero temperatures plaguing the East Coast.
Lake Oroville in central California this month shows
the effects of the drought. Photo from the California
Department of Water Conservation.  

That's probably in part because such things have better visuals than the real weather story going on right now: The California drought.

While the wintry weather in the eastern half of the nation is breaking a few records for temperature, snowfall and the like, it's really not unprecedented. Worse cold waves and bigger snowstorms have happened often in the past.

The California situation, though, is uncharted territory.

Some observers say parts of California have never seen a drought this bad. And there've been winter fires in areas that have never seen fires in the winter.

This is normally the heart of California's rainy season and once again, on Friday, there are alerts for the potential of forest and brush fires. This fire danger includes parts of Humbolt County in northern California, which normally this time of year is among the wettest places in the nation.

The drought has been made worse by weeks of record warm temperatures on the West Coast. What little moisture there is evaporates faster in hot, dry weather than it would if it was cooler and more humid.

Drought in California has been going on for more than a year now, and there's little sign it will break soon. There is a drought emergency there, and this could impact you. Yes, you, shivering over your warm bowl of vegetable soup while the temperature in New England drops below zero again.

This time of year, storms normally come in right after another in California, keeping the valleys wet, and more importantly, building up a big snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

That snow slowly melts in the spring and summer, sending water down to the vast agricultural fields in central California.  That's where a lot of the fruits and vegetables in the supermarket down the road come from.

So far, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is somewhere between 8 and 22 percent of normal, depending upon where you are in those mountains. That's pathetic. If it doesn't rain and snow soon, there won't be enough water to feed the farmlands.

Then prices of a wide variety of food items will go up, hurting us in the pocket book.

On top of that, there's the risk of much worse than usual fires in the summer, which could cause a lot of destruction, with it's accompanying economic loss and possible insurance rate increases.

The rainy season in California lasts until roughly the first of April. If they get a parade of unusually heavy storms in the next couple of months, the state should be able to squeak by with barely enough water.

But don't count on it. California, and other areas of the West Coast need more than a foot of rain to make up for what they've already missed out on this winter. That's on top of the several inches or more than a foot of rain that normally comes down between now and April.

The forecast for California is bad.  It might actually rain and snow a little bit next week, which would temporarily tamp down the ongoing fire threat. But the mini-storms next week, if they materialize, would be pretty small and would dump only light precipitation. These would not be the super soakers California needs by any stretch of the imagination.

So, while you're complaining about bad weather where you live in the Midwest, Southeast or New England, remember, at least there's no crushing drought.

We're uncomfortable in the East this winter, but we're not suffering, like California is, or is about to.

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