California expects new water-year record to be set this week
Fog and mist shroud the Sierra Nevada, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, near Echo Summit, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
East Bay Times by Patrick May, April 12, 20 17
Not only will this week’s incoming storms be packing their usual grab bags of mischief for Northern California – widespread and heavier precipitation, winds gusting up to 30 mph, snowfalls dropping from 5,000 to 3,500 feet – but the systems appear to have their hearts set on breaking one big thing:
The all-time wettest water year on record for the Northern Sierra, the most important source of water for the entire state.
On Wednesday afternoon, as the northern half of the state braced for the first of several weather systems approaching over the next 10 days, the so-called “Northern Sierra eight-station index” sat at 88.2 inches. And that’s just a hailstone’s throw away (.3 inches) from the current record for the water year, which runs from October through September. So it appars the days are numbered for that record of 88.5 inches set back in 1982-83, says meteorologist Craig Shoemaker with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
“We are expecting to become the wettest water year by Thursday evening if not before,” he said. “We have a system coming through and it depends on where the heaviest precipitation falls Wednesday night and on into Thursday.”
And that’s not all: “We have several more systems in the offing after this current one,” said Shoemaker, looking at computer models tracking incoming storms over the next ten days. “So we expect to now only break the all-time record this week, but we could end up breaking it by a few inches next week because it looks like we’ve got a fair amount of moisture in these coming systems.”
The weather-watching community is especially amped this week to see a new record set for the North Sierra index because the eight data-gathering stations from Mt. Shasta down to Blue Canyon in Placer County are witnesses to the bulk of the state’s rainfall. All that water in the mountains finds it way into creeks which feed rivers like the Feather, eventually filling the all-important reservoirs that sit north of Highway 50 like the ill-fated Oroville Dam.
Shoemaker says that this week’s record-setting storms will be followed by several more systems into the following week. “We potentially have a fairly significant storm coming on Easter Sunday,” he said. “Another follows on Monday and we stay unsettled throughout most of the week next week, with another system later on that week all the way to April 20. Our longer-range models for ten days out are showing active patterns that continue without a break.”
The current level of 87.7 inches represents an amount that’s 205 percent of the historic average for this date, according to the state’s Department of Water Resources. In fact, several rainfall stations in the Bay Area have already set all-time water-year records on their own. The bulk of Wednesday’s storm is expected to arrive in time for the afternoon and evening commute, and will be accompanied by gusty winds up to 30 mph.
Patrick May is an award-winning writer for the Bay Area News Group working with the business desk as a general assignment reporter. Over his 34 years in daily newspapers, he has traveled overseas and around the nation, covering wars and natural disasters, writing both breaking news stories and human-interest features. He has won numerous national and regional writing awards during his years as a reporter, 17 of them spent at the Miami Herald. In 1993, Pat shared with his colleagues a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the Herald staff's coverage of Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath.