Sacramento had the driest January through March since record keeping began. Just 2.45 inches of rain has fallen in the last three months, breaking the previous mark of 2.47 inches set in 1976. Usually, the city gets at least 3 inches each of those months in a normal winter.
In response to the historic drought, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered statewide mandatory water reductions of 25 percent.
Helping to put the parched weather in perspective is Brooke Bingaman, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Willamette University and master’s in meteorology from the University of Hawaii.
Bingaman started her career with the NWS while in graduate school. She participated in the Student Career Experience Program, which allows students to work part time for the federal government to gain experience. As a student, she worked in the Honolulu Forecast Office for three years where much of her training was based on tropical and marine meteorology.
After completing her master’s, she was hired full time by the Monterey office in 2005 and became a forecaster. She then transferred to Sacramento in 2007.
Q: Do you have thoughts about the first three months of the calendar year?
A: After a promising December, the beginning of 2015 has been disappointing in terms of precipitation. December through March are typically Northern California’s wettest months. Having only one good rain-snow month out of those four does not bode well for the California drought.
Q: Can you explain why the start of the year was so dry?
A: January through March has been pretty dry because much of the weather pattern over the West Coast has been a high-pressure ridge. Most of the moisture from winter storms in 2015 tracked over that ridge into the Pacific Northwest. That ridge has been blocking most of the storms from tracking southward into California.
Q: What are the rain totals for the three first three months of the year?
A: For downtown Sacramento, 2.45 inches of rain fell between Jan. 1 and March 31. The normal amount of rain for those three months should be more than 10 inches of precipitation. Broken down by month: January, we got 0.01 inches (3.97 is normal); February, we got 2.28 (normal is 3.69); March, we got 0.16 (normal is 2.95).
Q: Where do we stand for the season when it comes to rainfall? What months were the biggest disappointments?
A: For the water year (Oct. 1, 2014, through March 30, 2015), we are at 11.73 inches, which is 67 percent of the normal 17.57 inches. January, February and March have been the biggest disappointing months ... especially January, which only measured 0.01.
Q: Where would we be without December’s rainfall?
A: December brought downtown Sacramento 7.63 inches of rain. If we didn’t have that rainfall, then downtown Sacramento would only have 4.1 inches since Oct. 1, putting us at only 23 percent of normal instead of 67 percent.
Q: Along with the dry weather, temperatures were above average in Sacramento. How warm was it?
A: Daytime highs since Jan. 1 have averaged 6 to 9 degrees above normal for the Sacramento region. If we look at average daily temperatures (which combines daytime highs and overnight lows), then the Sacramento region has averaged about 4 to 6 degrees above normal.
Q: Was this an El Niño year? How did that play out?
A: This winter season had a weak El Niño signal at best. During El Niño years, the jet stream pushes southward so that Southern California tends to get above normal precipitation with more winter storms tracking into that region. For the Sacramento region, we tend to have a better correlation of above-normal precipitation in a strong El Niño signal. In weak or moderate El Niño winters, we can be above or below average precipitation.
Q: Looking into your meteorological crystal ball, when is the drought likely to break?
A: Well, you don’t have to look into a crystal ball to realize that our wet season is quickly coming to an end. That means drought conditions will continue through the summer. We’ll now have to wait until fall and winter of 2015 to see what the seasonal outlooks predict for the upcoming wet season to see how the drought might be impacted.
Q: Where can Bee readers find drought and weather statistics?
A: We often post updates to drought conditions and climate statistics to our Twitter account: @NWSSacramento.
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.