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By Meteorologist Randy Mann
Article published on April 19, 2021

As I mentioned in another article, a recent study published in Science says that much of the western U.S. and northern Mexico may be in an extreme long-term drought pattern that is worse than any other one in recorded history.

For January through December of 2020, California had the third driest year in recorded history. These records date back to 1895 and the current rainfall season, which runs from July of 2020 through June of 2021, is exceptionally dry. For example, Sacramento has only received 6.54 inches of rain since last October, which is about 39 percent of normal. San Francisco is at 37 percent of normal with Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego around 40 to 45 percent of average moisture.

In the desert areas in the southern part of the state, it’s been incredibly dry. Palm Springs hasn’t even received an inch of rain since October and they are at 15 percent of normal. Barstow, another desert location, is at 20 percent while Thermal, California has only picked up .35 inches since last October, which is now 11 percent of normal moisture.

Conditions are not much better in other parts of the West. Las Vegas is less than 30 percent of average since October of 2020. Phoenix, Arizona is at 29 percent of normal and Albuquerque, New Mexico is at 41 percent of normal. Salt Lake City, Utah is also dry with 64 percent of average precipitation for the season.

In the Northwest, moisture totals are better in many areas. Despite periods of recent extended dry weather in Coeur d’Alene, we are slightly above average with 19.18 inches since October 1, 2020. However, Spokane is a little drier than average with 86 percent of normal moisture since last October. Wenatchee is around 98 percent, but Moses Lake is dry with only 44 percent of average. Seattle is slightly above normal while Portland is around 87 percent of normal rain since late last year.

Snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada mountains are about 50 to 60 percent of average for the season. Reservoir levels in the Golden State are as low as 37 percent of capacity at Folsom Lake near Sacramento to as much as 68 percent in the central portion of the state. However, other reservoirs in Central California are down to 30 to 40 percent of normal capacity. Levels are a little better in Southern California with up to 90 percent or normal capacity for this time of year. Reservoir levels in our region down into the Columbia Basin are from 70 to 98 percent full, which is good news for our water supply.

According to an article from Columbia, based on tree-ring data dating back to 800 A.D., there were four major megadroughts in the western U.S. These occurred in the late 800s, mid-1100s, the 1200s, and the late 1500s. All of the “ancient megadroughts” were longer than 19 years and the one in the 1200s lasted for nearly a century. There were other studies that said that within the last 1,200 years, scientists claim that there were two dry long spells in parts of California each lasting for nearly 200 years. Since 2000, much of this region has been suffering through a long string of dry years. Scientists from this study say that data from 2000 to 2018 shows that the current drought may be worse than the three earliest megadroughts.

Although, high-ranking officials in California have not yet declared the state to be in a drought, this rainfall season will likely be one of the driest for many stations in the Golden State. The recent drought patterns have made residents more aware of water conservation measures and officials are encouraged that current water levels are not lower than expected. However, many are more concerned about another disastrous fire season as many areas are now “tinder dry.” And, very little moisture is expected over the next month as much of the western U.S. goes into its long, dry season.