A wet winter may be in the forecast

October 24, 2008 6:38:36 PM PDT
Like most California reservoirs, the water level at Folsom Dam reflects how dry it has been. With barely any rain or nearby snow runoff in recent seasons, the reservoir is at just 25 percent capacity.

After two consecutive years of drought, visitors have to drive three-quarters of a mile across what should be the bottom of the reservoir to launch their boats.

"I'm very concerned. If we don't have a wet winter, this winter; if we have an average or critically dry conditions, we will be facing the worst drought in California's history," Wendy Martin said. Martin is the California Department of Water Resources drought coordinator.

But there is hope for this winter coming in a weather phenomenon currently way west of California. The Madden-Julian Oscillation petered out too early last season, but this year it could signal the start of a wet winter.

"This year, we're predicting a near normal to above normal winter in the mountains because some of the things that caused us to dry out from February on last year aren't in place this year, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Goldstein said.

That's giving California farmers and ranchers hope; many didn't have enough water this year, resulting in $260 million in losses.

"It's only going to get worse next year, if we don't have the good rain or snow pack this season, California Farm Bureau spokesperson Dave Kranz said.

The forecast also looks promising for the California ski industry, which made a little over $7 million last season, about a half million less than normal.

But unless this winter's storms break all records, water rationing and cutbacks will likely stay in place because reservoirs are that much behind.