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  • 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

  • Lingering Drought (and Not Just in California)

    Step aside, California; you’re not the only one dealing with drought in this country.

    The entire state of Alabama is under some sort of drought condition, ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought. The last time the whole of Alabama faced drought conditions was back in 2011.

    nj-drought-monitor-comparison Lingering DroughtBut it’s not just Alabama. New Jersey is also drying up, and dry weather looks to be on the docket for a while yet. While not as bad as Alabama or California (can anywhere be as bad as California?), severe drought is creeping in along the Northeast. Lack of rain and snow in 2016 is a large factor in these drought conditions.

    While Georgia isn’t completely parched, it is quite dry in many areas. In fact, at the beginning of the 2016 calendar year, there wasn’t even a trace of moderate drought. Now there’s plenty of moderate, severe, extreme, and even exceptional drought conditions.

    But wait! There’s more! Mississippi is also suffering. A handful of counties are afflicted with extreme drought, while the majority is facing moderate to severe drought. About a third of the state is “just” abnormally dry. Only two counties are unaffected by drought conditions. In all, Georgia’s farmers are really starting to feel it.

    Of course, California isn’t doing so great, either.

    As a nation, there are a lot of parched states. IN fact, there are only a select few that don’t have any drought conditions at all. That being said, there are still plenty of areas that are receiving plenty of water, despite their state having some form of dryness. So all is not lost!

    us-drought-monitor-as-of-october-11-2016 Lingering DroughtHowever, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that certain areas are more affected than others. Take a look at the map here and see if you live in one of those areas. If you do, now is the perfect time to start preparing your water storage. Invest in a water barrel (or two) and fill them before you’re on a water restriction. This is one way to ensure you have enough water before any restrictions are put into place. And this water is not just for drinking, but washing and cleaning as well.

    Drought can happen in any state, and if you are fortunate to not be affected by it at this time, take precautions now so that when the drought does come to your neighborhood, you’ll be ready.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Lingering Drought

  • Is the California Drought Really Making Headway?

    California is known for its stunning beaches, beautiful parks, and blistering drought.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 4, 2015But things have been much worse for California’s drought. Just last year, the majority of the state was either in exceptional or extreme drought (as seen here as the two shades of red). There was only a small sliver down in the southeast of the state that was just abnormally dry (yellow). The rest of the state was in at least some form of drought, much of it severe or worse. Things certainly were bad back then. But has it improved, or has it become even worse? Let's look at the current drought monitor.

    California Drought Monitor Aug 2, 2016As of August 4, 2016, there’s a lot more yellow, which is a good sign. Yellow means it’s just abnormally dry, not technically in drought conditions. A fair portion of the reds have turned orange or beige, signaling the extreme and exceptional drought conditions are dwindling.

    Yes, there is still quite a bit of exceptional drought in California, but by the looks of things, it is slowly dispersing. That being said, it’s nothing to celebrate. At least, not yet.

    Since Californians have done an excellent job at conserving water – they cut back water usage by 27.5% in June 2015 as compared with the 2013 baseline – many municipalities are lifting water restrictions. An article in the East Bay Times showed concern from water program director at the Pacific Institute, Heather Cooley. She said that today’s number of saved water is strong. However, Cooley has other concerns.

    “I’m concerned about the next several months and years,” she said. “The water we save now is water we can use later if we don’t get rains next winter.” She warned that caution should be exercised.

    As the drought monitor from August 2, 2016 suggests, there is still a fair amount of drought afflicting the Golden State, and there will undoubtedly still be quite some time yet before the drought is gone.

    Whether lifting much of the water restrictions in California is a good idea or not remains to be seen. However, it does look like there is still room for precautions. Just because the disaster is becoming less severe doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop being cautious – and this goes for all disasters. Just because the threat is subsiding doesn’t mean the threat is gone entirely.

    But, perhaps local officials know better. Whatever their source of knowledge, you can still do your part to save water and ultimately be prepared.

     

    Drought  monitor

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