California drought: Could Sacramento receive normal rainfall?

Forecast models from the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes showed the Sacramento region had about an 80 percent chance of encountering an average hydrological year.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California as a whole continues to be in its third drought year, but earlier in the water year it had a strong chance of experiencing a normal water year. After the arrival of a strong atmospheric river in October, the first month of the hydrological year 2021-2022. Forecast models from the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes showed the Sacramento region had about an 80 percent chance of encountering an average hydrological year.

The normal water year is defined as reaching the average precipitation of rain or snow at a given location, for Sacramento this would be just over 18 inches of precipitation. As of mid-July, Sacramento had received 16.54 inches for the entire water year from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022.

In December, another system brought heavy rain and snow, directly affecting Sacramento and the Central Sierra. Chances increased again to 85-100% chance of reaching average.

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That all changed in January 2022. A three-month streak of lackluster storms continued to reduce our chances of hitting that 18-inch mark in Sacramento. April 1 is considered a peak for water runoff, and without more storms, Sacramento remained about 1.5 inches short of “normal.”

Research meteorologist Chad Hecht of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes said that for California, it’s either feast or famine.

“There were a lot of months left in the year with water, and January and February were really dry,” Hecht said. “That’s where we started to see that the odds of a normal water year across the state were starting to go down.”

Hecht said atmospheric rivers have been key to keeping California drought free. The first two strong atmospheric rivers helped us enormously, but their absence made all the difference.

Research on the prediction of these drought years hopes to contribute to water management and water saving measures.

“A lot of the work we’re doing here is forecasting this high pressure, because it’s really important to identify when it’s going to break up and lead to hard-hitting storms.” Hetch said. “Or sometimes it moves northwest and allows an open doorway for storms to move below into California or southern California and even northern California, which we’ve seen a lot at the during one of your 2017s, which was a very wet year for the state.”

SEE MORE: How ‘King Tides’ previews the potentially devastating impact of climate change on California.

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