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El Niño And California’s Historic Drought

Al Gibes / Capital Public Radio

Al Gibes / Capital Public Radio

The U.S. Drought Monitor report released September 3 showed no changes for California or the southwest.  

"No alterations were made to the drought depiction this week in these areas," according to the report. "Conditions will be reassessed next week."

In California, 92 percent of the state is in severe drought, 71 percent is in extreme and 46 percent is in exceptional drought.

The Drought Monitor drought intensity levels are Abnormally Dry, Moderate, Severe, Extreme and Exceptional Drought.

 090315 CA Drought

The National Weather Service in Sacramento released a video Wednesday about what El Niño, the ocean warming condition, might mean for California, and the impact it could have on the state’s historic drought.

Meteorologist Michelle Mead, with the NWS in Sacramento, has previously said that a strong El Niño will not end the state's historic drought.

"The strongest signal for El Niño for the storm track to increase in activity is for Southern California," she said.


"The deficit right now is somewhere around 12 trillion gallons of water," says Jay Famiglietti, Senior Water Scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and a Professor of Earth Systems Science at UC Irvine. "So we need to replace about 12 trillion gallons of water in storage, in snow, in groundwater, in our reservoirs. That’s going to take about three years of above-average precipitation."

"So, one El Niño year will help, if it actually brings rain to California, which is not guaranteed," he says. "But we need a few years in a row of above-average precipitation to dig out of this monumental hole that we’re in."

 Sept 2 Reservoir Numbers.JPG


In Nevada, 76 percent of the state is in severe drought, 38 percent is in extreme and 16 percent is in exceptional drought.

Severe drought covers 100 percent of Oregon and Washington. But there was some slight improvement for Washington.


 090315 West Drought


While there were no changes in the percentage of drought in California or Nevada, "Western Washington received anywhere from 1-5 inches of precipitation during the past 7-days, and streams have responded accordingly."

Because of that rain, "extreme drought (D3) was removed from the Olympic Peninsula, and was reduced on the windward slopes of the northern and central Cascades. With this recent upgrade somewhat at odds with the dominant short-term impacts designation (S), it was decided to remove the (S) designation, and keep SL (both short- and long-term impacts) across the Northwest."

The percentage of extreme drought in Washington decreased 17 percent from the previous week, from 84.64 percent to 67.96 percent.

More than 67 percent of Oregon remained in extreme drought. 

The long-term drought forecast shows the drought persisting and intensifying in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Second Warmest Meteorological Summer For Sacramento


The National Weather Service in Sacramento says June, July and August were the second warmest "meteorological summer" on record for downtown Sacramento. 

The NWS says the average temperature was 78.1 degrees, placing it second behind 79.0 degree average set in 1996. 

Of the three months considered the "meteorological summer," the weather service says August was the warmest in downtown Sacramento, averaging 78.6 degrees. 

In southern California, the NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard office says Santa Maria and Santa Barbara had their warmest August on record.

NOAA says meteorological seasons were created for meteorological observing and forecasting purposes.

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