Drought-Weary Eyes Watch California's Normal Winter Unfold

  • A change in weather patterns could dry out February storms
  • Climatologist says he's `cautious' about rest of season

California is having a pretty normal winter, give or take a degree here and a bit of snow there.

Since the entire state is abnormally dry or in drought, it’s been a while since that happened.

The trouble is, normal might not last. High pressure is forecast to follow a weak storm that’s promising a little rain and snow across the northern half of the state, said State Climatologist Michael Anderson. High pressure, also called ridging, can mean trouble if it sticks around.

“Strong high-pressure systems can lead to a decreasing snowpack and lack of precipitation,” he said.

Officials have said California would need to have a record setting year of rain and snow to break the four-year drought. So an average year, while good, won’t be enough.

California gets most of its water from October to April, with the bulk of that coming in December through February. To help alleviate the drought, a lot of that water has to fall as snow in the mountains, where it can be banked until spring.

El Nino

For several winters now, high pressure has built in the northeastern Pacific, bringing warm and dry conditions to the western U.S. and cold to the East. This year’s El Nino in the Pacific Ocean changed weather patterns enough to put California back on track for a normal year of rain and snow thr.

As of the start of February, statewide snowpack was 116 percent of average, and for the season, precipitation is 105 percent of average, according to the California Climate Tracker at the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nevada.

All but one of California’s largest reservoirs began the month below the historical average for the date, according to the Department of Water Resources.

A dry February “could be a setback to a year that had been behaving like a normal winter,” Anderson said.

Some Optimism

There is some room for optimism, said Matthew Rosencrans of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. Storms should be able to undercut the high pressure and hit California in the second half of February.

The climate center forecast is for above-average chances of rain and snow across southern California and a 50-50 chance in the northern part of the state.

“It’s not super likely it will get worse,” Rosencrans said from his office in College Park, Maryland.

For Anderson, there’s only one word he will use to sum up his current outlook: “Cautious.”

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