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Concern over dry winter increases moving into January

6:27 PM, Jan 3, 2014   |    comments
Here is the precipitation outlook for January through March.
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The big weather story has quickly turned from enjoying the unseasonably warm weather to concern about lowering water levels.

Each year Northern California looks to the Pacific for very wet systems called Atmospheric Rivers. The National Weather Service said about 25 percent to 50 percent of rain and snow comes from these storms. On average, there are about five per year.

In early December 2012, the Sacramento area had a series of storms associated with this Atmospheric River. The result was flooding and heavy snow. It was a great start to the water year. Unfortunately, there was hardly any rain thereafter leading to the driest calendar year on record for Sacramento.

The reservoir system was set up to help limit variability when the region goes through dry years. When there are a couple of dry years in a row, even the reservoirs have trouble helping.

A key indicator of the potential water supply for Northern California reservoirs is the Northern Sierra 8-Station Precipitation Index. These eight stations are positioned throughout the Northern Sierra and monitor rain and snow accumulation during the Department of Water Resources water year Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.  At the start of this water year, the area was already running a 14.1-inch deficit due to the previous two dry years.

Current predictions are showing a dry January. The 3-month outlook is also showing abnormally dry conditions through March. This means our wettest months - January, February and March - may not provide the wet weather the area needs to make up for the dry start to winter.


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