More images from The Santa Clarita Valley Signal
Last year, from October thru the end of February we collected 2.25 inches of rain and another 3.6 inches in March. This year we are up to 12 inches. Twelve inches is a good annual rainfall total for this area and we still have last week of Feb., March, April, and May before it becomes another 5 months of heat and aridity. In a typical year, we could be looking at another 4 inches. The weather folks are predicting an exceptionally rainy March.
This is a rough approximation of the weather we had in an “average” year from 1981 to 2010. June thru September are “hot” months. And in the last couple of years, we had extended 100+ periods any time from late June thru late September.
The lack of water causes the heat to be worse. Humidity in the air is a mediator of temperatures. It keeps the hottest from being as hot and the coolest from being so cold. Along with the heat we’ve had single digit humidity. It sucks the water right out of every living thing. Natural water sources dry up. Wildlife stresses out. It is in the summer and late fall when we see cougars and bears and deer come in from the wild areas in search of food and moisture. The mountains are bone dry as well.
Cool weather keeps the water from evaporating before it can be stored in plants or in the ground. It delays the snowmelt run-off, keeping creeks wet until later in the year. So far this has been a cold one.
The wet and cold weather of this year is a welcome respite. Just yesterday it snowed in the low lying areas of southern California. Hasn’t done that for a decade and I had given up hope of it ever happening again. The last week we’ve been seeing lows around freezing at night. I had to melt the ice off my car this morning. It even snowed in LA. The last time that happened was 1949.
We have gone thru a decade of below-average rains. WAY below average. Agriculture and cities have been sucking water from ever deeper aquifers and the loss of water has led to sinkholes. It will take several years of this to recharge the groundwater. The very deepest water is called fossil water because it has been there for thousands of years, if not longer. That may never be restored.
This event has been declared an “El Niño” event even though it doesn’t fit the definition
well. El Niño is a part of a larger weather pattern known as the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation” (ENSO). Without getting too deep into the weeds. ENSO fluctuates (in CA) between El Niño years that are warm and wet, “normal” years and “La Niña” years that are cold and dry. This year appears to be both cold and wet. It even snowed in Maui.
There is an atmospheric river that flows from the southern Pacific to the east carrying warm moist air. When it shows up in SoCal we call it the “Pineapple Express” because it sweeps across Hawaii on its way here. The oceanic requirements for an “official” El Niño to happen were fulfilled but the atmospheric conditions weren’t fulfilled until Feb. Since there are different “varieties” of El Nino that can happen, the Madden-Julian Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation (and related Polar Vortex) North Pacific Oscillation and the related Pacific Meridional Mode also have to be considered in predicting the intensity, duration, and temperature. Fortunately for us, the rain didn’t care and seriously started in October and hasn’t stopped yet.
This is what typically happens when we get a decent amount of rain. Hwy 2, the Angeles Crest Hwy is washed out. Whenever it starts to rain decently everyone brings out their “ark storm” scenario where a thousand-year rain causes the Sacramento River to bust its levees and leaves most of Sacramento and the central San Joaquin Valley a temporary lake. Much ado is made about the urgent need to repair those aging levies but as soon as the rain stops it gets put off another year.
Much as the Whittier Narrows dam could bust loose after a big rain and flush the homes of a million people into LA Harbor. We’ve been dithering about this one for years too. Army Corps of Engineers called it a “low probability-high consequence event” and gave it their highest urgency rating. If we are lucky they’ll start work in 2020. If not…?
All this rain after years of drought means we will be having a “super bloom” this year. Flowers aren’t stupid. They produce whatever seeds they can, given the small amount of rain they get. Most of those seeds do not sprout if it is dry. They have evolved to hang tight until rain comes and then years of seed accumulation sprouts like there is no tomorrow. Grass grows luxuriously and creek beds clogged by sediment, dead brush, and human detritus are scrubbed out by flood waters. This is important for most native amphibians and fish species. The scouring action produces sandy beds that are ideal for laying eggs.
Beetle damaged pine trees fight the insect off for a few years more life. The water helps the dead trees decay a little faster. Dead trees don’t compete for sunlight or water so new growth springs up. New healthy growth doesn’t burn as fast or hot as old growth. This year the mountains are reporting snow at 200%+ average. This means beautiful scenery and skiing but more important, it is this mountain runoff that recharges our aquifers and provides most of our drinking and agricultural water.
I celebrate the rain and cold here. It makes my joints miserable but also makes for a bit of recovery from a long drought. At the rate we were going, we’d soon change from oak savannah to chaparral to desert. This is a good year for rain. We need a few more “good” years to get out of the hole we’re in now.