Will the California Storms Help Fix the Drought? And What You Can Do to Prepare for Drought in Your Region

Lake decreasing in water volume due to drought

If you’ve ever experienced a drought, you know that they can be times of extreme unpredictability. When you first picture a drought, you might imagine an arid desert or rural area, but the truth is that droughts can happen in many different environments, so the best thing you can do is to be prepared. It helps alleviate stress, and you’ll have a better idea of what to look out for.

In the United States, one place that’s particularly affected by drought is California. Droughts occur when there is a shortage of rainfall, which leads to waterways drying up, and it can impact the way we live, consume, and regulate water resources. This past February and March, though, parts of the state were hit with record amounts of rain and snow, exceeding the average for that time of year.

These storms (both rain and snow) brought moisture and hydration to some areas of central and southern California and have even lifted some areas out of the drought. However, they also brought flooding. So, that begs the question, do the California storms mean the drought is over long term?

In this article, we’ll look at the situation and uncover the answer, as well as how you can be ready if a drought happens to affect your area.

Residential street in California

What is the drought in California?

The drought in California isn’t new. In fact, it’s faced droughts for hundreds of years, with some of the most severe occurring from 2007 to 2009 and 2012 to 2016, according to this article. Drought happens when there is an off-balance of dry years and wet years, which tend to occur less frequently on the west coast than on the east coast of the country. There are a number of reasons why drought happens, but the main reasons include:

  • Climate change: Changes in the temperature, sea level, heat, and climate patterns, like El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, can affect a year’s wet and dry periods.
  • Water supply: Where an area receives its water from can be important, many of which are reservoirs, or an artificial lake where water is stored. In California, the main sources include Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, and the Colorado River, of which it receives the largest allocation of any state.
  • Water storage: How well reservoirs are able to maintain and manage water levels, how the ground absorbs water, and soil quality all affect where the water goes after rain and snow. 
  • Agricultural activity: How often the ground is used for farming and plowing, for example, affects water retention levels, soil quality, and the overall strain of the environment.

  • In the state, water is managed by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), with many other national organizations, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also monitoring the drought. On a more local level, regional water managers track and report resources, and we’ll cover how you can access some tools of your own to monitor the drought.

    road closure due to flooding

    Why was California so Stormy?

    A number of circumstances – like heavy rain and even mountain snow – caused moisture and California flooding. Some of the most severe flooding occurred in parts of the state that are close to water supplies or are flat, like the Central Valley.

    Examples of storms that have battered the state are atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones, which have happened this year

    • Atmospheric rivers are plumes of concentrated moisture that stretch thousands of miles and can provide much of an area’s annual precipitation; they can also dump water that causes landslides and floods. 
    • Bomb cyclones, on the other hand, are rare, but they often form during the winter months over the ocean and can cause damage from the drastic change in pressure when they hit land.

    Essentially, factors like ocean temperature, atmospheric pressure, and climate can cause these California storms and rapid changes from dry to wet periods. It’s all the more reason why it's important to always have an eye out for local weather conditions and updates. 

    Not to mention, statewide snowpack also plays a role. Snowpack occurs when snow is on the ground but has not melted. While it can help in hydrating the environment and storing water, it can also overwhelm and inundate the ground. In California, the DWR measured snowpack in many areas like parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Cascade Range, and San Bernardino Mountains. 

    The state was experiencing a whopping 237% increase in normal levels, which helps explain why there was such an overwhelming amount of liquid and water – the DWR predicts it could be a historical average.

    Will California’s Storms Help the Drought?

    All of this information might leave you wondering: is California’s drought over for good?

    While the weather and rainfall have certainly improved the situation in some counties, the drought isn’t completely on its way out just yet. As you might remember, California has experienced drought for many years, and according to meteorologists, it’s likely to continue. 

    The storms, rainfall, and snow did produce much-needed hydration for the state, even lifting some counties out of a drought, but only time will tell. As much as the water helps, it can have adverse effects when it overwhelms the natural environment, and it doesn’t mean the long term dry period is over.

    In fact, California's dry season is from May to September, so it’s not likely for these rainy periods to continue. If rainfall remains steady, however, the situation could improve across much of the state, at least for the current year. If the next wet season lacks precipitation, though, California could fall back into a similar situation where it faces statewide effects.

    dry desert-like area with road

    How Can You Prepare for a Drought?

    Because droughts are a bit different from other natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes, which can happen without notice, you’ll likely know when you’re experiencing a drought. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to be prepared, both for your safety and peace of mind; we always recommend having a Terra FRMA Grab + Go Box on hand. You can also prepare for drought with:

  • Sunscreen and hats: if your area is expecting a heat wave or increased temperatures.
  • Non-perishable food: sometimes, it can be harder or more expensive to buy fresh food when it is scarce.
  • Water containers: to store water whenever you’re able to (like during rainfall or storm).
  • Water filters: or another way to purify and sanitize the water you collect if you plan to use it. (note: fresh rainwater is not potable!)
  • Emergency supplies: batteries, flashlights, radios, and first aid kits should always be in your home, just in case.

  • In many states, regional authorities will provide guidance or enforce restrictions to communicate with citizens about how they should use water. Many of these regulations boil down to individual consumption for purposes like irrigation and utilities. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged a voluntary 15% water conservation target for Californians, which has been eased in some areas due to the volume of water and improvement of the drought. 

    In the event of a drought, some simple changes you can make include:

  • Limit appliances with high water consumption: It might be annoying to do fewer cycles of laundry in the washing machine or run your dishwasher less, but it can play a huge role when you consider how many homeowners have an impact.
  • Water your plants less: or plant alternative species in your gardens that require less water. Even simple switches like using a watering can instead of a hose help reduce unnecessary water waste.
  • Take shorter showers: if you take baths, consider taking them less often and showering instead whenever possible.
  • Keep the sink off when you’re cooking: it can be tempting to leave the water running as you wash produce or prepare ingredients, but it’s best to turn off the sink and just turn it on for a few seconds whenever you need it.

  • Additionally, there are many resources you can use to monitor your own community and local environment, like the local news and drought monitor. The drought monitor is a free tool you can access that is updated weekly by many organizations like the National Drought Mitigation Center, NOAA, and more.

    And if you’d like to learn more about what to do in the event of a flood and how you can be ready, check out this article. Remember, natural events can be scary, but you can take more control of the situation by just taking a few moments to prepare and educate yourself about the facts.

    All in all, droughts can affect anywhere in the world and aren’t specific to a certain region or set of conditions. They occur for years on end, and California just happens to be a spot that receives little rain compared to how dry and hot it is. 

    While the storms throughout 2022 and 2023 have brought rain that has improved the situation in some counties and regions, it’s too early to say it solved all the problems that contributed to the situation. Regardless, it’s always good to reduce your water consumption wherever possible, monitor local weather conditions and news, and keep your Terra FRMA resources nearby.
    Tags: Drought, Storms