La Niña promises drier months ahead for California

February 3, 2011 7:20:51 PM PST
From unseasonably wet to incredibly dry. That sums up our rainy season so far this year. And with nearly half the season left and no rain in sight, is it time to push the water supply panic button?

What a difference a month makes. Before the new year, Northern California saw copious amounts of rain and snow. And then, as if someone turned off the spigot, it all stopped.

"We're in a La Niña," said UC Davis climatologist Bryan Weare.

Northern California's dry spell can be blamed at least in part on cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific.

"People make so-called outlooks based on what's happened in the past during La Niña events and that outlook is for basically dry California, especially Southern California for the next couple of months," said Weare.

In January, statewide rainfall totals were just 30 percent of average for the month, but for the season 130 percent.

Meteorologist Jan Null says this water year will be defined not so much by what happened in January, but rather what comes next.

"I think it's a little too early to be worried," said Jan Null with Golden Gate Weather. "It's fairly typical that we have a mid-winter dry spell. I think it averages about 19 days of dry weather sort of sandwiched between our normal rainier periods."

What matters most is the High Sierra and whether the current snowpack will last, even if the rest of the season is relatively dry.

Currently, water content in the Sierra snow is 135 percent of average for this time of year. In the major reservoirs water supply is 111 percent of normal at Shasta, 109 at Pardee, and 93 percent at Folsom.

"There's a lot of carry-over storage from last year," said Jennifer Allen with the Contra Costa Water District. "There was a cool summer last year and we're optimistic that in the next couple of months we'll see some more rain and snow coming in."

Even with the optimism, water managers say it's always good for people to do what they can to conserve.