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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.