Have laid off the constant weather reports because this rain year, unlike last year, has been, frankly, boring. After a dry February here in Contra Costa County and the Sierra, the 2017-2018 precipitation year was shaping up to come in at under 1/2 average. Despite the shrill claims that this would have been some sort of disaster, it’s completely normal, if by normal you mean something that happens fairly often in the natural course of things, like how a 5’3″ tall man is completely normal, even if he’s below average height. 50% of average one year, 150% of average the next, and everything in between – that’s normal.
But that ain’t selling any beer or shampoo. So we get California May Be Returning to Drought Again and Sierra Snow Droughts May Become More Common, from early February, which, oddly, comes up far above Nearly 16 Feet of Snow Has Fallen in California’s Sierra Nevada in 18 Days, an article from the same site 2 days ago, when one googles ‘Sierra snow’. It’s like they don’t want you to stop worrying.
March rolled in like a lion. In addition to the 200 – and counting – inches of snow so far this month, we’ve had between just under 3″ to well over 8″ of rain at various spots here in Contra Costa County – the eastern part of The Bay Area, or, as Herb Caen used to say, San Francisco and its suburbs.
Right now, we’re just getting into one of those great combo storm, where the typical Gulf of Alaska cold front moves in and combines with a ‘pineapple express’ storm coming up from Hawaii. The latter is warm and full of water, the former is cold and lowers the snow level. Together, they tend to dump tons of snow in the mountains – forecast is 60″ over the next few days.
There’s also rain. This particular storm is centered south of here, with the brunt hitting land around San Luis Obispo and then sliding south into Santa Barbara on into LA. They’re looking at 4 – 8 inches in the mountains, with over an inch in the flats. Since brush fires exposed a lot of bare ground down south this fall, mudslides are likely. They’re predicting snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5 where it winds through the mountains north of LA) which will create traffic chaos. Good week not to drive.
We’re just getting the edge of the storm, but still should get a not insignificant amount of rain. The southern Sierra, where all the really tall mountains are, is going to be really buried – that 60″ guess is for our end of the range, which is lower and not the center of this storm’s bullseye.
So, what does this all mean? My very amatuer guess is that we’ll end up with about 75% of average precipitation this year, which, on the back of last year’s 200% and current above normal reservoir levels, should be a JUST FINE. And because the snow came so late, the ski resorts should be able to stay open through all or most of the spring. Right now, however, skiing is being snowed out. Can’t ski in a blizzard, especially when the roads are closed. But over the next couple months, should be excellent.
Why do I care, and more to the point, why should you care? I think the odd slants and filters on the news are perhaps most easily seen where the topic is not too emotional. Here, we have the safest topic of all – the weather. Yet, even such a mundane and non controversial topic can’t escape. Weather any different than it was last year or as it is selectively remembered to have been a decade or two ago? Must be global warming! Our reservoirs and aqueducts built for the completely different state we had 50 – 100 years ago? Drought! And global warming! We use pristine mountain water to wash circuit boards dozens of times so that the effluvia is clean enough to dump in the bay? Water shortage! Due to global warming!!
Folks, it’s just weather. We have 35 million+ Californians using water delivered largely by an old, creaky and leaky system designed for half that many, often using it in stupid ways. That means we have to be a little more circumspect and spend some money on infrastructure and maintenance. It’s not the end of the world. It does not require institution of a global tyranny to micromanage everybody’s lives.
But you wouldn’t know that by reading the news.