SoCal has Officially Sloshed its Way out of Drought Conditions

An atmospheric river drenched California with heavy rain and mountain snow, triggering flash floods, mudslides, and winter storm warnings in the Sierra Nevada. The conveyor belt of clouds and moisture stretching across the Pacific easily stands out in this Feb. 14, 2019 image from NOAA’s newly operational GOES West satellite. (Photo courtesy NOAA Satellites/Flickr)

LOS ANGELES – Here’s some feel-good SoCal water news: We’re finally free of drought conditions.

Even though former Gov. Jerry Brown declared the drought emergency over in 2017, things had still been exceptionally dry, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.

Per its latest map, released this Thursday, that’s finally changed.

U.S. Drought Monitor map, released on March 6, 2019 (Graphic courtesy University of Nebraska)

“The big story out west is the seemingly never ending parade of Pacific storms that are certainly erasing the drought and dryness concerns in the short term,” said Eric Luebehusen, meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of this week’s drought map.

Snowpack, the wetness of the snow and the moisture levels in vegetation and (sometimes) soil are all considered when drawing it up.

The series of atmospheric rivers delivered a major respite from the dryness. And unlike a few years ago, the precipitation we’ve been getting has been enough to make a serious difference in our water picture.

Southern California has received 122 percent of its average rainfall since Oct. 1, good news for gardeners and groundwater supplies.

If you want to feel extra good, take a look at the Sierra Nevadas, where we get a large portion of our water.

Sierra snowpack as of March 6, 2019. (Graphic courtesy California Department of Water Resources)

The latest snowpack measurement shows that 113 inches of snow have fallen (153 percent of average), and most importantly, it’s very wet.

Reservoirs statewide are doing well, too.

“It looks like overall the water picture is looking pretty good,” said Michael Anderson, climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources.

California’s reservoir levels as of March 6, 2019. (Graphic courtesy California Department of Water Resources)

But is anything ever really forever?

“Our seasonal and long range forecasting skill is pretty weak,” he said, so “given the wild year-to-year variability that California sees, there just really isn’t any way to know what comes next.”

Scientists have been saying for years that climate change could bring increased variability between extreme dry and extreme wet periods. For all we know, next year could be the start of a long term drought.

In addition, the past five years have been California’s hottest on record, and according to the latest climate assessment we could see temperatures rise between 5.6 and 8.8 degrees across the state by 2100. More heat means a greater loss of soil moisture and rising snow lines, something we’re already seeing.

-Video Report by Jodi Guerrero/Cronkite News