The official arrival of spring today brings with it the realization that Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada have again been abnormally dry for the fourth straight winter.
The rainy season began in the fall with hope that the drought would be broken, but that was not to be.
With the exception of one big “Pineapple Express” in December and a good rain in February, Sacramento has been dry – and, lately, warm.
On Thursday, Sacramento set a record when the high temperature reached 81 degrees at Executive Airport, topping the previous mark of 80 degrees set in 2004, according to the National Weather Service.
The lack of rain was especially stark in usually soggy January when just 0.01 of an inch was recorded in Sacramento.
The winter also did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada. California’s water supplies are reliant on mountain snowpack that melts in the spring and fills reservoirs for summer use in cities and on farms.
The most recent snowpack survey showed that statewide the mountains have just 13 percent of the snowpack normal for this time of year.
“Generally our snowpack accounts for about a third of our state water supply,” said Brooke Bingaman, weather service meteorologist. “Not all of the 13 percent snowpack will end up in the reservoirs, some of it will soak into the ground. So the level our reservoirs are at now is essentially what we will have for the rest of the summer.”
The culprit behind the snowfall shortfall is a familiar meteorological villain – a high-pressure ridge that has shunted snowy storms to the north, Bingaman said.
In addition, the northern part of the state usually gets five to seven atmospheric rivers, large storms that can drop several inches of rain. This year, Sacramento got two such storms.
One hit in December, a month when 7.63 inches fell and another in February, when 2.28 inches of rain were recorded.
“Since Oct. 1, we have had 11.73 inches,” Bingaman said. “Normally we should have had 16.64. So we are at 70 percent of normal right now.”
Bingaman said Folsom Lake is 59 percent full, but it won’t get the usual snowmelt from the American River.
“December, January, February and March are typically our wettest months of the year,” she said. “Really, December was the only month that was really wet.”
Weather watchers say that warm conditions predicted for the spring could quickly dry rangeland and brown suburban lawns.
“Periods of record warmth in the West and not enough precipitation during the rainy season cut short drought relief in California this winter and prospects for above average temperatures this spring may make the situation worse,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
For April, May and June, the state has more than a 50 percent chance of being warmer than normal. In terms of the precipitation outlook, there’s no telling yet whether rainfall will be above or below normal in the next three months.
Bingaman said light rain may fall Sunday night and Monday in the Sacramento region. March forecasts also are coming up dry.
Only 0.16 of an inch has fallen this month in Sacramento. The city usually gets 3 inches of rain in March.
“There will be a lot of brown lawns this summer unless we could somehow just get Boston to FedEx all their snow to us,” Bingaman said.
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.