March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Extreme Drought and Warmth of 2013-14 Across California – Looking Back to Forecast Our Summer

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Alex Tardy

The winter of 2013-14 will go into the record books in the top five warmest and driest for California. The record warmth is an average of low and high temperatures from October to April, which is typically the wet, cooler season for the West Coast. The lack of precipitation this past winter, and since January 2011, has led to the severe-to-extreme drought conditions in California. Precipitation deficits for most areas range from one to two seasons of missing precipitation, which equates to 12 to 30 inches below normal across southern California. For the period October to April 2014, the precipitation was between 25 and 50 percent of normal for most areas.

The extreme drought conditions have taken a toll on water supplies with major reservoirs in California only 50 percent full and at 65 percent of the historical average for April. Normal snowmelt is not expected to result in the typical late spring runoff and replenishment of water supply. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, where much of the source of the water supply originates, is at all-time low levels that are 10 to 25 percent of normal. This is the lowest observed snowpack water content since 1976-77, which was the worse drought on record for California. The winter of 2013-14 featured a very dry start but did have significant precipitation from mid-February to late March. This resulted from a few significant Atmospheric River events and led to most of the seasonal total. The precipitation deficit has been most severe in south central California where the agriculture has been impacted, wells have dried up, and local water supplies are very low.

Satellite depiction of Atmospheric River episodes in the Pacific which impacted the West Coast with heavy precipitation in 2014. Courtesy of Sheldon Kusselson at NOAA

Satellite depiction of Atmospheric River episodes in the Pacific which impacted the West Coast with heavy precipitation in 2014.
Courtesy of Sheldon Kusselson at NOAA

For more about water and water supply issues in California, visit Aquapedia and Aquafornia. As part of the Water Education Foundation’s goal of educating the public on water issues in the West and in California, Aquapedia uses Foundation publications and other vetted resources to reach the growing number of people who receive their information via digital formats. Use this valuable information and site the Water Education Foundation as your resource. Aquapedia centers on resource articles supplemented with photos, videos, interactive maps and other online tools, which provide background and context to understand California’s complex water issues.

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After the record warm winter season (October to April) and much below average precipitation (third year in a row), the outlook for summer 2014 is warmer than normal conditions with periods of active monsoon thunderstorms in the deserts and mountains.

Due to the ongoing drought, the fire danger is much higher than normal and those fires that occur will have the potential for extreme behavior and growth. Drought monitoring maps (updated weekly) are available from the National Drought Mitigation Center. Across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, average sea surface temperatures are expected to warm into an El Niño state this summer and fall. (For current information about El Niño, including educational resources, visit the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center website.) However, it is uncertain how much impact this may have in the 2014-15 winter wet season. Historically, several El Niño winters have brought normal to below normal precipitation. Only the strong phase of the El Niño has been the most consistent with above normal precipitation for southern California such as 1977-78, 1982-83 and 1997-98, which were also seasons that ended ongoing drought. In general, California would need about 150 percent of its average precipitation for the rainy season to significantly reduce the drought and raise the low water supply in reservoirs to near normal levels.

Temperature (left) and precipitation (right) outlook for the period  July, August, and September 2014.

Temperature (left) and precipitation (right) outlook for the period
July, August, and September 2014.

Alexander Tardy Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Manager at NOAA/National Weather Service in San Diego, CA and a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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