California reservoirs still suffering from drought

Above: the status of the large reservoirs in California as of February 16, 2016, showing the current water levels and the historic average for the date. California Department of Water Resources.

In spite of significant rain over parts of California over the last six months all but one of 12 large reservoirs in the state are still storing water at levels below the historic average for the date. Folsom Lake has 117 percent of average while the other 11 have from 30 to 80 percent.

Precipitation predicted for Thursday in the Sierra Nevada Mountains should help a little, with some areas above 7,000 feet receiving a foot or more of snow.

snow Sierras 2-18-2016
Snow prediction Sierra Nevada Mountains, 0400 Feb. 17 through 1600 Feb. 18.

The photo below shows the extreme northern end of Trinity Lake on August 9, 2014 when it held about 40 percent of average. On February 16 of this year it was at 43 percent.

Trinity Lake drought
North end of Trinity Lake in northern California, August 9, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

It remains to be seen how the winter weather will affect the 2016 wildfire season. It is a factor of course, but more significant is the weather DURING the fire season. If it is hot, dry, and windy, there will be major fires.

Wildfire potential through March, 2016

On December 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for December, 2015 through March, 2016. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their forecasts are accurate, it looks like a continuation of pretty benign conditions across the United States this winter.

Here are the highlights from their outlook.

December wildfire 2015 Outlook

  • Significant fire potential is normal across the majority of the U.S.
  • Below normal significant wildland fire potential will persist across most of the Southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico.

January 2016 wildfire Outlook

  • Significant fire potential is normal across the majority of the U.S.
  • Below normal significant wildland fire potential will persist across most of the southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico.

February-March 2016 wildfire Outlook

  • An area of above normal significant fire potential will develop across the central interior portion of the eastern U.S. Above normal potential will also affect the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Below normal significant wildland fire potential will persist across most of the Southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • Significant fire potential is normal across the majority of the U.S.

And as a bonus — the Drought Monitor:

Drought Monitor December 1, 2015

Drought Monitor Change

Bonus #2, Percent of Normal Precipitation:

Precip percent of normal California

How much precipitation is needed to end the drought in western states?

precipitation end drought 3 months

The three-year drought in the western United States and especially in California became more obvious this year as wildfires were influenced by low moisture in live vegetation, and in some areas once-healthy trees began to show drought-induced stress.

The current El Niño is expected to influence weather patterns during the coming winter and forecasters predict higher than normal precipitation across the southern portions of the United States, including southern California.

The map above illustrates how much precipitation is needed over a three-month period to end or ameliorate the current drought. Most of northern California will need from 6 to 12 inches according to NOAA.

Drought Monitor 10-27-2015


NOAA’s disclaimer about the map at the top of the article:

This [map] only tells you how much precipitation a location needs to get the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) to a certain value based on the model’s equations. It does not tell you how much precipitation is needed to refill a reservoir, restore groundwater to normal, or bring an ecosystem back to normality. It also does not incorporate snowpack into its calculations, and mountain snowpack is a crucial part of hydrology in the U.S. West.

New York Times, on California’s drought and its effect on wildfires

NY Time fire article
NY Times article article about California’s drought and the effect on wildfires. (click to enlarge)

The New York Times has a visually stunning article about the drought in California and its effect on wildfires. It was published about four days before record-setting rain in the south part of the state caused flooding and a bridge washout on a heavily-travelled Interstate Highway. This one rain event, however, will not turn around the drought, or have any lasting effect on the trees and brush that have already died due to lack of water.

The article was written by Haeyoun Park, Damien Cave, and Wilson Andrews. The photos are by Zackary Canepari. If you enjoy seeing awesome photos, especially of wildfires, check it out — preferably on a computer with a large monitor.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Roy.

CAL FIRE says vegetation conditions are the worst on record

Redding, CA sunset CAL FIRE engines.
Sunset in Redding, California enhanced by smoke from the Eiler Fire, August 10, 2014. (Click to see a larger version.) Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Capital Public Radio:

…CAL FIRE says the timing of this year’s rains and four years of drought will combine to make fire conditions in 2015 the worst on record.

“We measure the fuel moisture content of all of the vegetation -the brush and the trees and we track that over the course of time and compare it month to month each year,” says Ken Pimlott, Director of CAL FIRE. “And we put it through formulas and determine how much energy and how much heat it will put out when it’s burning. And we have seen -we saw it last year and we will see it again this year- we’ll be reaching records for potential heat output for times of the year that would normally not be burning in those conditions.

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott urged homeowners to clear space and conserve water.

“We don’t have water to water lawns and unnecessary landscaping. So, what that means is, is you need to  remove that vegetation as it dries. We don’t want your dry lawn and your dry brush to contribute to more of the fire hazard. So, stop watering your lawn and remove it.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat got out to Barbara.