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  • Good Rain, Bad Rain: The Double Standard Facing California

    California got a lot of water. I mean a lot of H2O. I recently posted about how California is blasting out of their never-ending drought thanks to all that rain. But while that article was about the good times, we still need to talk about the not-so-good times.

     

    Flooding

    Too much of a good thing can be harmful. We need water to live, but too much in our body has adverse effects. Another good thing that we can have too much of is, unfortunately, pizza (don’t kill the messenger). But when it comes to rain, that’s a good thing for California. But then it kept raining…and it rained some more…and the rain kept coming. It was like someone opened up a fire hose above the state and just drenched everything in sight!

    Floating Phone Booth - LA Times Rain "Yes, hi. I'd like to make a collect call..."

    Of course, that’s just what California needed for drought relief. But there was still an after effect. Flooded streets was a problem for the urbanites, but in comparison to the rural regions, flooded streets no longer seem that bad. Many of California’s farmlands and vineyards have been flooded by the recent rain revolution. Much like how pizza can cure hunger but too much will start making someone feel sick, a good bit of rain is essential to curb the drought, but too much will start hurting crops.

    With so much rain, certain precautions were overwhelmed. One such barrier to flooding was a levee in a farming area near Hollister. On January 20, 2017, a levee failed to hold back the floods, causing a release of water so immense that farms and homes in the region were completely swamped. Water rescue teams were dispatched to help the local residents as well as wildlife flee the rushing, rising rivlets. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this scenario somewhere before…

     

    Rain is good. Too much rain still has good things about it, but can also cause a lot of troubles (just ask Winnie the Pooh). That’s why being prepared for many different scenarios is a good idea. Preparing for drought now while the water is good is a splendid thing to do. Preparing for flooding? Better now than in the thick of it. For any disaster, it’s better to be prepared well in advanced. Otherwise, you might up the creek (or street, in this case) without a paddle.

     

    Written by Steven M.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Rain

  • The State of the Drought: California Looking Good, but Still Not Enough

    With all the rain this country has been getting (looking at you, California), let’s take a look at the state of the drought.

    Beginning with California, it’s safe to say that things are looking up. According to the LA Times, drought conditions in California is now just over 51% of the state. Compare that to last year where most of the state looked like a sunburned lobster. Yes, things are certainly looking up.

     

    Drought Comparison State of the Drought

     

    But that doesn’t mean the drought is over. Au contraire! Nearly 25 million people still live in an area with drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. But that’s just in California. There are many other areas in the country where drought is still a big issue (including California).

    The South is also in a drought. Back in November 2016, farmers and ranchers alike were having a very hard time due to the severity of the drought. Today? Things are, much like California, looking up. All the rain in the deep south has erased most of the worst bits. But drought still lingers, especially in Oklahoma and Arkansas, where extreme conditions still blight the land.

    Will all the rain we’ve been having kill the drought for good? In the South, there’s a chance. As for California, however, there’s still a long way to go. From a Wired article, we read what it means to get out of a drought. “Common drought indicators,” they say, “evaluate the balance between water that comes into the state…and water that goes out.”

    How does water come in, you ask? Rain and snow, mostly. Unless you count bottled water from Fiji (which doesn’t actually count). Water leaves the state in runoff, evaporation, and – get this – consumption. People drink and use a lot of water. The minimum amount a person needs to survive is about a gallon of water each day. With 25 million people in still in areas of drought, each day uses at least 25 million gallons of water. More when you realize people use much more than just one gallon of water a day.

    Golden Gate Gate State of the Drought If only there was some way to make all this water drinkable...

    In a 2011 study, it was average annual total water use per home was 362 gallons per day. Let’s assume that each household has cut its water usage by 20% (like they were supposed to). That’s still 289 gallons per day. Now say each household has four people. Some might have more and some might have less, but let’s just go with four. That equates to about 72 gallons of water a day per person. Now, just speaking of the area still in drought (25 million people, remember), that comes out to 1.8 billion gallons of water per day for 25 million people. Again, that’s just taking into consideration the 51% of the state still affected by drought.

    It’s no wonder some say California’s drought is never-ending.

    At any rate, we’re still very excited about how far California’s drought has come. While there will still be dry spells and hot temperatures, things really are looking up (despite that behemoth number you just saw). But just because the state is practically drowning in water (more on that in a future post) doesn’t mean it’s time to take off the restraints. The battle isn’t over yet, but at least those in California can finally see some headway.

     

    Written by Steven M.

    Drought State of the Drought

  • Drought Buster: Atmospheric Rivers Bring Drought Relief - and Disaster - to California

    Look at these two pictures from the United States Drought Monitor. This first is from a year ago. The entire state was in some level of drought, and almost half was in the highest level (exceptional drought – rust colored).

     

    California Drought 2016 atmospheric river California Drought as of January 12, 2016
    California Drought 2017 atmospheric river California Drought as of January 10, 2017

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Compare this year’s map. Everywhere north of Sacramento is drought-free. Only 2 percent of the state is in exceptional drought.  Since January 1, Lake Tahoe’s water level has risen almost a foot – 33.6 billion gallons, according to the National Weather Service.

    The January storms that brought this remarkable turnaround also wreaked havoc. They:

    Caused at least five deaths.

    atmospheric river Pioneer Cabin Tree toppled in storm - image via Mercury News

    Toppled the "Pioneer Cabin" tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Calif. The still-living giant sequoia had a tunnel, cut in the 1880s, that tourists could walk through.

    Caused the Truckee River to overflow its banks, flooding Reno, Nev. suburbs and polluting drinking water in Storey County, Nev.

    Closed ski resorts in California, Nevada, and Colorado when too much snow created hazardous driving and avalanche conditions.

    Dumped 35 inches of rain on California’s central coast. San Francisco has already seen more precipitation in 2017 than it did in all of 2013.

    Caused blizzard wind measuring 174 mph at Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Jan. 8.

    Forced evacuation of several northern California towns because of flooding.

    Forced managers of the Yuba River to manually open a dam’s floodgates for the first time in 10 years to prevent flooding in downtown Sacramento.

    All of these events are is the product of a common weather phenomenon that drives between a third and a half of the precipitation in the western United States: atmospheric rivers.

    Imagine a high-altitude fire hose. It’s not constant, but once it forms, it can stretch thousands of miles long (and tens to hundreds of miles wide). It can carry water vapor equivalent to 15 times the flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    As this flow interacts with a low-pressure storm system or runs into a mountain range, it brings a blast of precipitation that can last for days. Frequently, these systems follow each other.

    One NOAA author called atmospheric rivers “drought busters,” because just a few such storms can break up droughts.

    So this year’s series of atmospheric rivers have been a great boon to bone-dry California. Yet they haven’t brought as much rain to the southern part of the state. And they bring devastating flooding.

    In 1861, rain started falling on Sacramento, Calif., on Christmas day, and stopped 43 days later, according to a story from a NBC Bay Area affiliate. The state legislature had to move for six months because the city was submerged under 10 feet of water. California’s Central Valley – its bread basket – flooded, and the San Francisco Bay filled with so much fresh rainwater that its wildlife struggled, according to the story.

    It was an extreme version of the most common atmospheric river to affect the western United States: the Pineapple Express (no relation to the movie), nicknamed such because it often forms in the Pacific near Hawaii.

    Another atmospheric river storm that began December 29, 1996, dumped more than two feet of water in many northern California locations, killed two people and caused $1.6 billion in damages.

    They’re not just confined to the west. An atmospheric river was behind massive flooding in March 2016 in Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.

    And two more are forecast to hit California this week.

    Atmospheric rivers can bring all kinds of wild weather. So look around, think about what one might do to your area, and plan accordingly.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Atmospheric River

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