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Western U.S. May Be Entering its Most Severe Drought in Modern History

Extreme drought across the Western U.S. has become as reliable as a summer afternoon thunderstorm in Florida. And news headlines about drought in the West can seem a bit like a broken record, with some scientists saying the region is on the precipice of permanent drought. That’s because in 2000, the Western U.S. entered the beginning of what scientists call a megadrought — the second worst in 1,200 years — triggered by a combination of a natural dry cycle and human-caused climate change.

Drought Takes Hold in West After Second Dry Winter

Dry conditions in the Southwest, largely associated with La Niña, have intensified what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling the most significant U.S. spring drought since 2013, affecting an estimated 74 million people.

NOAA Warns of Water Use Cutbacks, Fires and Low Levels in Reservoirs Amid Significant Drought

Dry weather is likely to persist in the U.S. in the coming months, with the possibility of water use cutbacks in California and the Southwest as more than half of the country experiences moderate to severe drought conditions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

NOAA’s Spring Outlook report stated that the U.S. could face the most significant spring drought since 2013, with the potential to impact roughly 74 million people across the country.

Hot Again: 2020 Sets Yet Another Global Temperature Record

Earth’s rising fever hit or neared record hot temperature levels in 2020, global weather groups reported Thursday.

While NASA and a couple of other measurement groups said 2020 passed or essentially tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, more agencies, including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, said last year came in a close second or third. The differences in rankings mostly turned on how scientists accounted for data gaps in the Arctic, which is warming faster than the rest of the globe.

January Outlook: Wetter & Warmer for Most of the Nation

Happy new year! We all know keeping New Year’s resolutions is often a fruitless endeavor, but here’s hoping that Mother Nature will make—and keep—a resolution for a less bonkers climate year in 2021. To kick start 2021 in the United States, the January outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center favors wetter- and warmer-than-average conditions for much of the country, which is particularly good news across drought- and wildfire-stricken parts of northern California.

Santa May Not Need the Heavy Red Coat When He Visits Southern California

Santa might be able to lose the heavy red coat when he makes his rounds in the Southland, and he probably won’t need an umbrella either.

The extended outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration favors above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation in the Los Angeles region from Dec. 24 through Dec. 30.

It’s Close but 2020 Likely to End Up Hottest Year On Record

Just how warm Earth stays this December will determine if 2020 goes down as the hottest year on record. And it’s looking a lot like it will.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated Monday that last month globally was the second hottest November on record, behind only 2015. Yet NASA and a European climate monitoring group said it was the hottest November on record. NASA has coverage over the poles that NOAA does not — and both the Arctic and Antarctic were very warm in November, NOAA climate scientist Ahira Sanchez-Lugo said to explain the difference.

Google Collaborates with NOAA to Use Artificial Intelligence for Weather Forecasting, Research

Google and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have signed a three-year deal to use the tech giant’s artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance the agency’s environmental monitoring, weather forecasting and climate research, according to a joint announcement released Tuesday.

La Niña and California’s New Water Year

It’s that time of the year in California, when water managers, climatologists and meteorologists look at the factors that determine what the winter will bring during Water Year 2020-21 (October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said that La Niña conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, “with an approximately 85% chance of La Niña lasting through the winter.” Forecasters currently think this La Niña will be on the stronger side. For California, those conditions typically mean a drier winter, with increasingly dry conditions heading into 2021.

Donner-Summit-2015-Primary-Water Year

La Niña and California’s New Water Year

It’s that time of the year in California, when water managers, climatologists and meteorologists look at the factors that determine what the winter will bring during Water Year 2020-21 (October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said that La Niña conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, “with an approximately 85% chance of La Niña lasting through the winter.” Forecasters currently think this La Niña will be on the stronger side. For California, those conditions typically mean a drier winter, with increasingly dry conditions heading into 2021.

Fortunately for the San Diego region, any impacts from La Niña will be lessened because of the region’s development of a diversified water supply portfolio. Following a record number of acres burned from wildfires in 2020, La Niña would only increase fire danger.

NOAA-La Niña-Water Year 2020te.

La Niña continues in the tropical Pacific, with an approximately 85% chance of lasting through the winter, according to NOAA’s October 2020 La Niña update. Graphic: NOAA

Water Year 2020

But, whether the forecasts come to fruition, and what that means for California’s water supply, won’t be fully known until next spring. What we know now is that the water year that just ended (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020) varied across the state.

While Northern California was mostly dry, parts of Southern California experienced above average precipitation, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The agency said that the water year ended below average and pointed to the impact of climate change on the California’s water supply.

Impacts of climate change

“California is experiencing the impacts of climate change with devastating wildfires, record temperatures, variability in precipitation, and a smaller snowpack,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We must continue to invest in our infrastructure to prepare the state to cope with more extreme weather for the state’s needs today and in the future.”

For Water Year 2020, a lack of precipitation resulted in a snowpack of just 50% of average on April 1, as measured by the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program, making it the 10th smallest snowpack in California since 1950, according to the DWR. California’s reservoirs received just a third of the water runoff from precipitation and snowmelt that they did during the same time period a year ago.

The wet season got off to a slow start, but a series of storms in late November and early December pushed 2019 precipitation to near or above average in central and southern California, according to Goldy Herbon, San Diego County Water Authority senior water resources specialist.

Driest February on record

“The wet start didn’t last with dry conditions taking hold over most of the state in January, and then most of California experienced its driest February on record,” said Herbon.

While precipitation picked up in March 2020 for Southern California, statewide snowpack in mid-March was only 38% of average.

“The dry north/wet south precipitation pattern continued in March and April, with some locations in Southern California setting many daily precipitation records, San Diego included, as northern California precipitation levels remained below average,” said Herbon.

Water supplies in “excellent shape”

Despite the below average year in northern California, Herbon said statewide water supplies are in “excellent shape” thanks to above average precipitation the previous year and good reservoir storage. DWR reports that statewide reservoir storage through the end of September 2020 was projected to be 93% of average.

In the San Diego region, a wet spring boosted rainfall totals to near or above normal.

Water Year 2020-Water Supply-La Nina

Regional precipitation during Water Year 2020. Graphic: National Weather Service San Diego