California’s river storms will not solve a historic drought

Floodwaters surrounding a home in California on January 13.

A house flooded by the Salinas River during a rainstorm in Salinas, California on January 13. Photo: Josh Edelson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

California water department officials are scrambling to capture as much runoff as possible from the state’s weeks-long atmospheric river storms in an effort to alleviate water supply concerns stemming from a massive ongoing drought.

The Big Picture: The massive amounts of heavy snow from the storm parade caused the statewide average snowfall to rise by 251% on January 17. Winter snows in the Sierra Nevada mountains provide water supplies during the dry season.

Play status: The powerful storms, which are nearing calm, have been a huge boost to the icing of snow in California and its reservoirs, and likely a huge help in preventing water shortages during the dry season.

  • However, the massive amounts of rain falling so heavily on the saturated soil meant that much of the water was flowing into rivers and eventually the Pacific Ocean, rather than filling up reservoirs and recharging depleted groundwater reserves.
  • One concern is that it is not clear how long the dry conditions will last through the rest of the winter. If a weather pattern shuts off the atmospheric tap completely, California could end the rainy season with a lack of precipitation.

what are they saying: California Department of Water Resources (DWR) warned On Monday, it said it was “working urgently to capture as much water as possible to help alleviate drought conditions, but the current infrastructure for transporting water across the delta is outdated and prone to earthquakes” and “limiting water exports during these long, winter storms.” sustainable.”

  • “We are no longer dealing with only drought or flood conditions, the current situation across the state requires managing both simultaneously,” He said Chris Tgernell, deputy director of stormwater management for the Division of Integrated Watershed Management, on Monday.
Screenshot of a map showing a snowpack in California that is 245% of normal and 120% of peak average snow.
Regional snow collection totals as of Monday, January 16. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

glimpse: The latest numbers show Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, at 57% of total capacity, but 101% of the historical average for this time of year.

  • Meanwhile, the Snow Lab at UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra, near Donner Pass in the northern Sierra Nevada, mentioned That snow has fallen from 165 inches there in January, and 346 inches for the season so far.
  • The snow at this location is 10 feet deep, which is indicative of the heavy snow mass that has accumulated in the hilly areas.

  • That’s only 14 inches below the average seasonal total, which could fall in the next and much weaker river storm to hit the atmosphere this week.

Hydrological injury: The onslaught of atmospheric river storms, which have killed at least 19 people while causing widespread mudslides, power outages and flooding, shows how California is now more at risk from severe weather.

  • Research shows that climate change intensifies extreme weather events where precipitation has been variable for a long time.
  • In short, dry periods become drier, and wet periods wetter, as temperatures rise and the air holds more moisture.
  • In addition, the portion of California’s annual precipitation that comes from atmospheric river events is expected to increase, while the amount that comes from other storms is expected to decrease over time, according to Julie Kalansky of the Scripps Center for Western Weather and Extreme Water.

What we watch: DWR is calling for implementation of the updated Delta Conveyance Project, a major climate adaptation strategy, “in part to improve our ability to store high winter fluxes like those we are seeing today for the hotter, drier times we will see in the future,” DWR says. He said Monday.

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