Downtown L.A. is now driest since rain records started in 1877

Children romp in a fountain at Grand Park on the Fourth of July.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rainy seasons over the last two years were the driest in downtown Los Angeles since record-keeping began in 1877, and forecasters now say the El Niño that had been predicted to bring some relief may not materialize.

According to the National Weather Service, the 2012 to 2014 rainy seasons -- which are measured every July 1 to June 30 -- only brought 11.93 inches of rainfall, which is 17.93 inches below normal.

By comparison, the 1897 to 1899 seasons saw 12.65 inches of rain, or about 17.21 inches below normal for the period, according to the National Weather Service.


“It’s the worst drought we probably have seen in our lifetime,” said Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In fact, four of the driest rainy seasons have occurred in the last seven years, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The drought, he said, started in 1999 and worsened over time. The last three years, however, have been the worst.

In June, nearly 80% of California was considered to be under “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest categories of dryness, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.

And any hopes for an El Niño weather pattern this rainy season are quickly fading, Patzert said.

“El Niño is wimping out,” he said.

The latest El Niño data show that the possibility of higher rainfall peaked this May, but greatly diminished by July 5.


California residents who were hoping for a break from the drought should instead brace themselves for dry conditions to continue throughout the summer and fall, he said.

It doesn’t mean no rain will come, but when it does, it won’t be at the level climatologists were expecting. Large El Niño events with massive amounts of rainfall, Patzert added, only happen once every 50 years.

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