In 2014, researchers were declaring the California drought the worst in 1,000 years. And then we had a year, 2015, that was in many ways much worse. We actually had near normal rainfall on the valley floor that year, but it was so warm that the snowpack ended up at 10% of normal, a value never recorded previously. It has been a horrific time. Not only are the reservoirs low and agricultural fields dying away, groundwater has been overdrafted at catastrophic rates, and the worst wildfires in living memory have destroyed vast swaths of forests in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California.
|Dry Creek, January 20, 2016|
The storms so far have actually not been directly related to El Nino. They have been cold arctic storms that have been dropping prodigious amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada. For the first time in five years, the snowfall has been above normal. Not far above normal, around 110-115%, but it feels unprecedented after such a long period of paltry precipitation.
So I've been watching the precipitation pretty carefully of late. Well, actually I've been tracking rainfall amounts in my backyard rain gauge since 1991, and this year has been interesting. At 2.82 inches, the November rain was the second highest I've recorded. December didn't set records, but 2.60 inches fell that month. But once January arrived, the spigots opened up, and we've four good storms already, dropping 4.21 inches. We've already reached 10.01 inches for the year, where 12 inches is average for an entire season.
|Dry Creek on January 7, 2016|
|Dry Creek in March 2011, at more than 3,000 cfs|
|Merced National Wildlife Refuge, January 2014|
It's been normal, but it doesn't feel normal.