WunderBlog Archive » Weather Extremes

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

California Drought Update

By: Christopher C. Burt, 7:39 PM GMT on April 03, 2014

California Drought Update

March precipitation was near normal for most of central and northern California following a couple of big rain/snow events between March 29-April 1 that helped boost the ground moisture and Sierra snowpack (at least in the northern two thirds of the state). Unfortunately, it was too little too late as the most recent, and last, important snow survey for the season conducted on April 1st has shown. Here are the details.

The lack of progress against the drought, in spite of the recent rains, can be seen in the latest California Drought Monitor report issued today (April 3rd). The areal coverage of D4 (Exceptional drought) has increased slightly from last week’s report although some improvement in the DF3-4 (Extreme drought) has been seen, this improvement taking place in the northern Sierra region. Drought Monitor maps created by NOAA et al.

The latest Sierra snow pack water content report (issued on April 1st) shows that statewide the snowpack is at 33% of normal. Although this is a slight improvement to the 29% of normal on March 1st, it is a dire situation, since normally the snow pack will be melting down from now on to the end of the water season on June 30th. The April 1st survey is considered the most significant of all the monthly snow surveys since statewide agricultural water allocations are be based upon the April 1st surveys. This is the 3rd consecutive year with the April 1 snowpack well below normal. On April 1, 2013 it was 46% of normal, and on April 1, 2012 54% of normal. Below are the maps and data for ALL three of the April 1 surveys 2012-2014:

Snow pack surveys for April 1, 2014 (top), April 1, 2013 (middle) and April 1, 2012 (bottom). Of course, this is why the drought has reached such a critical phase this year even though the water year has not been close to record territory. California Department of Water Resources.

As one can see from the above maps, the reason the drought has become so critical is that this is the third consecutive season with much below normal precipitation and snowfall. This season has been the driest of all three but will not go down in the record books as one of the driest single seasons on record, thanks to the normal precipitation of February and March. In fact, San Francisco’s current 11.92” seasonal total no longer ranks even in the top dozen of such (since 1849-1850). If not a drop of rain falls for the rest of the water season (until June 30th) only Bakersfield and Fresno would have a chance of establishing their all-time driest water year on record (Bakersfield’s driest such was 2.26” in 1933-1934 and Fresno’s 4.43” also in 1933-1934).

Below is a chart of how the precipitation totals stand now compared to one month ago. As one can see, slight improvements have occurred at all sites except in the far south where Los Angeles and San Diego did not receive any significant rainfall during March.

Seasonal (July 1-to date) precipitation totals for select California cities and the % of normal for such as of March 2nd (top table) and April 2nd (bottom table).

At this point in the season about 85%-90% of the total normal seasonal precipitation would normally have already fallen. No significant storms are forecast until at least April 10th and so, barring a miracle, the state must now resign itself to an extreme drought situation through at least next November.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Drought

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Here is a story about Berlin having the opposite problem:

Water in Berlin: The moisture down below

I think we should also make a blog to talk specifically about the health of glaciers in Northern California which will likely suffer a massive loss of volume.
The IMD (Indian Meteorological Dept) has published a press report stating that WMO has confirmed Cherrapunji had recorded the highest rainfall for a 48 hour period.


Has been explained by science as like a spinning top slowing. My science explains the flip flop tipping of our earth in its annual orbit around the sun. Until recently the interaction of the earth and sun’s magnetic poles, that give us our four seasons, has been subtle.

Explained in other papers, the earth’s tipping causes an equal and opposite movement of the equator, causing both north and south magnetic poles to relocate in the opposite direction and distance of the earth’s most longitudinaly tipping.

It’s too early (February 2006) to determine regularity in the extreme flip flopping (tipping of the earth).

The equator has moved one thousand miles north on earth’s North and South America side and one thousand miles south on Asia and Australia’s side.

Earth’s climate is determined by sun exposure, cold secreting from earth’s magnetic north and south poles – the secretion of earth energy evolving to interact with air and water (weather). Secondary to these would be cold producing molecules (chips) of snow and ice, heated water and air.

Like Australia, Arizona gains the heat of the now closer equator (sun exposure) and Japan loses the heat of the equator. Cold produced from the poles has little effect on these, and climate transition is quick. Russia gains cold from its arctic and loses the heat of the equator – its transition is quicker than ours.

Waiting for the ice to melt, Canada’s warming will be more gradual. If this extreme flip flopping becomes the norm, we in Vancouver, B.C. will enjoy the weather of Los Angeles, C.A. and they will endure the heat of Mexico – in a boat – hmmm.
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.