Southern California has just experienced its fourth year of below normal rainfall. According to the National Weather Service, from July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2009 Los Angeles has received 9.08 inches of precipitation, well below the 15.15 inch average.
“That is a -6.06 departure from normal,” said David Gomberg, meteorologist from the National Weather Service. “Last year [rainfall] was 13.53.”
“It’s not a happy story,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This June was gloomy and wet with rain on occasion but that only amounted to about 0.15 inches. The fourth year of drought has made water conservation even more of an issue. Recently the major supplier of imported water to regional water companies, Metropolitan Water District informed their distributors they would be receiving less water.
“We have a growing population,” Patzert said. “It’s the old supply and demand thing.”
Californians have always been used to their English-type gardens, he added. “But those good old days are in the rearview mirror. Now it is time for a reality check.”
The only glimmer of hope comes from a slow, and small warming in the Pacific.
“There is an El Niño brewing down near the equator,” Patzert said.
El Niño is the warming of the ocean water that normally causes increased rainfall over land. The amount of rainfall is determined on El Niño’s size.
“This is a low end to moderate El Niño,” Gomberg said.
Patzert agreed and added that the effects of any size El Niño will not be felt until this winter. “Until then there are a lot of hot days and an entire Santa Ana [winds] to get through,” he said.
He added that although this is the fourth year of L.A. County’s drought it has been dry in other areas even longer.
“On the Colorado [River] the last nine years are the driest nine years of the past century. And Lake Mead and Lake Powell are [50%] below normal,” he said.
Firefighters are well aware of the drying conditions as they monitor residential abatement programs.
“Residents need to get rid of weeds [around their homes] and any flammable ornamental vegetation that is up against their home,” said Capt. Adrian Murrieta, Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 82.
Murrieta said that vegetation like cyprus, juniper and oleanders can be dangerous and are very flammable.
“I know they are up against the homes and they look [nice] but it only takes a day or two for them to dry up,” he said. “And oleanders burn quickly and they admit a poisonous gas.”
Patzert said with the dry conditions, fire warnings and water conservation have made drought tolerant plants and conservation education more popular.
“We are not going to be able to rain our way out of this [water crisis] but conserve our way out,” he said. “[Residents] can cut their watering in half and still have green grass and gardens. If ten million people would turn off the water while brushing their teeth, we would save 20 million gallons in water.”