We’re just a few days into the first real wet weather we’ve had in California in more than two years, and I’ve already heard people proclaiming “The Drought is Over!” Not so fast.
The weather we’ve had since Thanksgiving is a welcome change from past two years. It’s brought steady, sustained rains that reached into most parts of the state, soaking into the parched ground gradually and staying put, which is a critical element to ending the drought.
But we need it to keep raining like this all winter. That’s right, we need a long, dreary, cold rainy winter. As I write this, we are still below normal rainfall year-to-date. Unless it rains like this for another week — which is not what the forecast says is going to happen — we will still be falling behind instead of catching up.
We need something else to end the drought: at least one or two really big storms. The kind that knock down powerlines and cause floods. Because those are the storms that historically fill our reservoirs. Unless water is running off the soil and into all the creeks and rivers, the reservoirs don’t fill up. Given that most of our reservoirs are below 50% capacity, they probably need several of those storms to get back to normal.
And there is one more key component to busting the drought: the temperature. It’s too warm. On Thanksgiving it was 75 degrees here. Warm temperatures mean rain instead of snow in the mountains, and snow that melts too quickly. Temperatures in California continue to be much warmer than normal, and it will take a sustained period of cold, rainy weather to correct that.
Even though the post-Thanksgiving storm may feel like the return of “real winter”, it’s not a typical Northern California winter storm. The moisture from this storm came mostly from the tropics far south of Hawaii, just like almost every other storm we’ve had this fall. If that pattern continues, we will have a warm winter. And that’s not what we need.
Don’t get me wrong — we’ve been enjoying the nice weather at Terra Firma as much as anyone. Weeks of warm sunshine punctuated by a few sprinkly days. It is endlessly easier to grow and harvest vegetables and fruit in that weather than in the pouring rain and mud.
The drought won’t be over until every person in Northern California is whining daily about the weather. “It’s sooooooo cold! When is the rain going to end? Are we ever going to see the sun again?” And we will be whining louder than anyone.