What's the chance for a 'normal' rain year now? Grim, if history is a gauge

Paul Rogers, The Mercury News on

Published in Weather News

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Hoping for a March Miracle to bail out California's dry winter? It's not likely.

A review of more than 100 years of rainfall records of major cities in California -- including San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Rosa, Redding and Fresno -- shows that none have ever finished the rainy season with normal rainfall totals after ending January with the amount of rain they've had so far this winter.

In San Francisco, where rainfall records date back to 1849, the odds are only a little better. Just twice has the city's rainfall total recovered to its normal level of 23.65 inches by June 30 after being where it is now, at 8.53 inches, from July 1 through Jan. 31.

In Eureka, it's happened three times since 1885. In the rest of the cities, not once, even though their weather records also date back to the late 1800s.

In other words, California winters are like Olympic ski racers. Stumble at the beginning of the race, and it's very difficult to catch up by the end.

"The odds are against you with a bad start," said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services in Saratoga, who compiled the data. "Usually there just aren't enough opportunities to recover."


California's Mediterranean climate means that most rain every year falls during four months: December, January, February and March.

In San Francisco, 71 percent of the annual total, on average, occurs in those four months. In San Jose it's 70 percent. In Sacramento, it's 68 percent and in Los Angeles, it's 78 percent.

So far this winter, December was dry, January was about average in most areas -- saved by one big storm on Jan. 8 and 9 -- and February so far has been bone dry and hot, with forecasts calling for another 10 days of warm, sunny weather.

While it could still rain considerably between now and April 1, much of the state remains in a sizable rainfall deficit this winter. History shows that when the deficits are this big, there are rarely, if ever, enough storms in most Marches to salvage a normal year.


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