Intense Rain Puts a Big Dent in California’s Drought

Over the past week, a cavalcade of intense rain and snowstorms battered the west coast of the US and put a major dent in California’s five-year drought.

According to the latest report from the US Drought Monitor, the northern third of the Golden State is now drought free. This is a major change from just three months ago, when the entire state was in some form of drought.

Across the region, copious amounts of precipitation were reported. More than a foot of rain fell in the Sierra Nevada, with 20.7 inches measured locally at Strawberry Valley, CA. Higher elevations saw tremendous snowfall totals. Heavenly Ski resort in South Lake Tahoe, according to the NWS, received an incredible 12 feet of snow in just one week.

These staggering totals came courtesy of a weather phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river”. These are narrow, but intense bands of water vapor sourced from the tropics. Often originating near Hawaii, this fire hose of moisture is sometimes called a “pineapple express.”

While this excessive rainfall did cause flooding events across the region, reservoir levels have benefited. Lake Shasta, the largest largest reservoir in California, is currently at 81% of total capacity and 126% of its historical average for the date.

Southern California also picked up some much-needed rainfall, but still remains in drought. That said, only 2% of the state is currently in exceptional drought, the worst possible category.

Northern California is drought free for the first time in five years. Credit: US Drought Monitor

NYC Monthly Summary: December 2016

December felt like a weather roller coaster in New York City this year. We had highs that ranged from a cold 27°F to a relatively balmy 60°F. The warmth won out in the end, though. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 38.4°F, which is 0.9°F above our long-term norm. That makes December 2016 the Big Apple’s 18th consecutive month with an above average temperature – its longest streak on record.

In terms of precipitation, December was mostly dry. In all, we received 2.89 inches of rain, which is 1.11 inches below normal. Snowfall was also relatively scarce with Central Park reporting 3.2 inches for the month. The city usually receives 4.8 inches of snow in December. As a result of the this paltry precipitation, NYC remains in a moderate drought according the latest report (12/29) from the US Drought Monitor.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Rainstorm Brings NYC its Wettest Day of the Year

A rainy day in New York City is typically nothing to write home about, but Tuesday’s precipitation was extreme. Heavy downpours brought the city more than half a month’s worth of rain in a single day.

According to the NWS, 2.2 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. Not only is that a new daily record for the date, it was the wettest day the city has seen so far this year. On average, we normally get 4.02 inches of rain for the entire month of November.

Suffering through moderate to severe drought conditions for several months, this rainstorm was largely beneficial for the area even if did put a damper on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. That said, even more rain is needed to bust this drought completely. Year to date, the city’s rainfall deficit is 7.24”.

This type of heavy rain event, according to NOAA, is expected to become more common in the northeast as global temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change.

Drought Update: Autumn 2016

This autumn has been marked by heavy rain and catastrophic flooding in some parts of the United States.  Drought, however, continues to plague large sections of the country.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 49% of the nation is dealing with drought. While this number represents a slight improvement for parts of the west, both the southeast and northeast have been drying out.

Currently, 57% of the southeastern US is in some form of drought and 21% is suffering from conditions of extreme drought. These parched conditions, which have been building for months, are now fueling wildfires across the region. According to the US Forest Service, 59 of the 61 active large wildfires burning in this country are in the southeast.

Another hard hit area is the northeast, where 19% of the region is in severe or extreme drought. Water restrictions are in place in parts of Massachusetts and communities in New Jersey are asking residents to conserve water voluntarily.

On the other side of the country, California – now in its fifth year of drought – received some much-needed rainfall recently. However, most of it fell only in the northern counties. Overall, 88% of the Golden State remains in some form of drought with 21% in exceptional drought, the worst possible category.

The Drought Monitor is a weekly publication produced by a partnership of government agencies, including the National Drought Mitigation Center, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Credit: US Drought Monitor

NYC Monthly Summary: June 2016

June 2016 was a bit of a weather rollercoaster in New York City. We had highs that ranged from a cool 67°F to a balmy 88°F.  But, in the end, the cold and warmth averaged each other out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 72.3°F, which is only 0.8°F above normal.

In terms of precipitation, June was unusually dry and marked the fourth consecutive month that NYC received below average rainfall.  In all, we received 2.60 inches of rain in Central Park, which is 1.81 inches below normal. As a result of this paltry precipitation, according to the latest report (6/28) from the US Drought Monitor, the city is now in a state of moderate drought.

June Temps 2016

Temperatures in NYC this June felt like they were on a rollercoaster.  Credit: The Weather Gamut

Drought Update: Summer 2016

This summer has been marked by heavy rain and even flooding in many parts of the United States.  Drought, however, continues to plague large sections of the country.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 41% of the nation is in some form of drought. Many areas in the south and northeast are listed as abnormally dry or experiencing moderate drought. But, it is the western states that have been particularly parched.

One of the hardest hit states is California, which is now in its fifth consecutive year of drought. In fact, 100% of the Golden State is currently experiencing some form of drought with 43% in extreme drought. These exceptionally dry conditions have provided the fuel for an early and explosive start to the region’s wildfire season.

Deprived of water, trees in California have not been able to produce the sap that helps protect them from insect infestations. This has left them vulnerable to attack by bark beetles, especially as the temperature warms. Together, the drought and these insatiable insects have increased the rate of tree mortality in the state over the past few years. According to a recent survey by the U.S. Forest Service, 66 million trees have died in the Sierra region of California since 2010. That is an increase of 26 million since the last count in October. Sadly, as the drought continues, more trees are expected to die, further elevating the risk wildfires.

The Drought Monitor is a weekly publication produced by a partnership of government agencies, including the National Drought Mitigation Center, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

41% of the US is in some form of drought. Credit: US Drought Monitor

41% of the US and 100% of California is in some form of drought. Credit: US Drought Monitor

NYC Monthly Summary: October 2015

October was a weather roller-coaster in New York City this year. We had highs that ranged from a relatively balmy 78°F to a chilly 50°F.  In the end though, the warmth won out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 58°F, which is 1.1°F above average.

On the precipitation side of things, October was mostly dry and marked the city’s fourth consecutive month with below average rainfall. In all, we received 3.91 inches of rain in Central Park, which is 0.49 inches below normal. Of this total, 1.44 inches fell in a single heavy rain event during the last week of the month. Despite this soaker, the city remains in a moderate drought according to the latest report (released on 10/29) from the US Drought Monitor.

October was a temperature roller-coaster in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut

October was a temperature roller-coaster in NYC.  Credit: The Weather Gamut

Drought Update: Autumn 2015

This autumn season has been marked by a number of intense rain and flooding events across the US, from South Carolina to California.  Drought, however, continues to plague large sections of this country.

According to the latest report from the US Drought monitor, 58.96% of the nation is in some form of drought. Many areas in the mid-west and the northeast are listed as abnormally dry or experiencing moderate drought. But, it is the western and southern states that have been particularly dry.

In California, despite some unusually heavy rain recently, the long-term drought continues. In fact, 99.86% of the state is experiencing conditions of moderate drought or worse, with 46% in exceptional drought – the worst possible category. These extremely parched conditions have helped fuel an explosive wildfire season across the Golden State.

As discussed in an earlier post, the multi-year drought in Texas came to an abrupt end this past spring with intense rainfall and catastrophic flooding across the region. Over the summer, however, drought conditions returned. Developing fairly quickly, this is known as a flash drought. As of this week, 65.25% of the massive Lone Star State is in some form of drought and 21.40% is in extreme drought. That is serious weather whiplash!

The Drought Monitor is a weekly publication produced by a partnership of government agencies, including the National Drought Mitigation Center, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

USDrought_102015

Credit: US Drought Monitor.

Pyrocumulus Cloud Forms Over Wildfire in Kings Canyon National Park

Fueled by drought, wildfires have been blazing across the American West all summer.   Sixteen are currently burning in California alone. While hiking in Kings Canyon National Park in the state’s rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains recently, I crossed paths with the “Rough Fire” and saw it produce a billowing pyrocumulus cloud.

Pyrocumulus clouds form when intense heat at the surface – usually from a wildfire or volcanic eruption – causes air to rise rapidly. As it travels upward, water vapor in the air condenses into droplets and forms a cloud. Filled with ash and smoke, the swelling cloud generally appears more grey than white.

Ignited by lightning over three weeks ago, the Rough Fire continues to spread and has even caused parts of Kings Canyon National Park to close. According to the NPS, smoke from the massive fire has also impacted the air quality in and around the park. To date, the fire has charred close to 50,000 acres and is only 17% contained.

Pyrocumulus cloud rising over California's Rough Fire in Sierra National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park. August 2015. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Pyrocumulus cloud rising over California’s Rough Fire in Sierra National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park, August 2015. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

2015 Wildfire Season on Track to Record Levels in US

Summer is wildfire season in the American West, and it is off to a raging start.

So far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires have burned 5.5 million acres across the US. That is an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. It is also the second highest total (as of this date) in the last 25 years.

As of Monday, 22 large wildfires – defined as greater than 100 acres – are burning in 5 states.  In California’s Napa Valley region, the Wragg Fire has scorched 7,000 acres and forced many residents to evacuate. In Montana, a massive blaze has burned approximately 5 square miles of Glacier National Park since it began last week. The majority of the acres burned, however, have been in Alaska. They have seen nearly 4.7 million acres charred, which is about 85% of the national total to date.

High temperatures and prolonged drought in the West have turned forests and brush areas into tinderboxes that are susceptible to any type of spark. While summer is usually hot and dry in California, the state is enduring its fourth year of drought. Alaska has also been unusually warm and dry. In fact, according to NOAA, they are in the middle of their second warmest year on record, year to date. These warm temperatures helped produce a dearth of winter snowfall, which has lead to drier than normal conditions across a large area of the state.

Overall, wildfires in the US seem to be getting worse. In Alaska, 3 of the worst wildfires have occurred in the last 12 years. In California, 12 of their 20 largest fires have taken place since 2000. In both states, wildfire records date back to the 1930s.

Nationally, summer 2015 is on track to be one of the worst wildfires seasons on record.

Credit: CBS

Wildfire rages in Glacier National Park, Montana. Image Credit: CBS