Experts say the recent harsh rains in the North Bay reflect the reality of extreme climate change

It’s a trick of the mind that a few days of rain can make us quickly forget the statewide drought we’ve endured for three years.

Even a month ago, Lake Sonoma held the smallest amount of water since its creation in 1983—a reflection of the area’s lack of rainfall and its water supply deficit.

Now, it’s like Water World all around. The earth is spongy. Heavy rain has been falling from the sky for days. Most streams, streams, and rivers flow ephemerally, with major floods expected along the Lower Russian River in a few days.

what gives? And where are we exactly?

The answer is a bit unclear, given the abundance of rain still to come next week alone — at least two storms of 5 to 10 inches are expected for most of Sonoma County, forecasters say — and the significant uncertainty about how the traditional remaining rainy season will be “once The end of the current storms.

It’s clear that the water supply for many parts of the state, including Sonoma County and the North Coast, will improve dramatically—a positive trade-off for the pain and cost of last week’s “bomb hurricane” and the accompanying rains that killed at least five people living across the state, including That’s a two-year-old boy who died when a tree fell on his house in the West.

Lake Sonoma, low enough last month that a mandatory 30% conservation rate was considered, is now on track to be 88% full by January 16.

Lake Mendocino is filling up very quickly, potentially requiring the release of levees as soon as it is safe to do so without endangering that water.

It’s a stark turnaround from months of bureaucratic maneuvering aimed at hoarding every possible drop of water.

Reservoir rebound isn’t the only measure of drought recovery, experts say, and climate change just means there will be more yo-yo between extreme weather events in the future.

“If you define drought by surface water levels, that will mitigate it significantly,” said Daniel Swain, an oft-consulted climate scientist at the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

He said many smaller reservoirs across the state are approaching seasonal stocking averages, and even larger ones are making critical progress.

“That’s not a great way to define dehydration,” Swain said.

It overlooks the effects of drought on plant life, particularly stresses on trees and forests, which have contributed to wildfire risks.

above: Highway 128 crosses the Russian River near Geyserville amid an ongoing drought on May 12, 2022 and on January 6, after a series of heavy rains led to flooding.

Aquifers that have been under increasing pressure to supply water in the absence of sanitary reservoirs need more time to recover.

“Those take longer to recover. They recover on much longer time scales, mostly,” said research meteorologist Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Extreme Waters at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“The drought of water supplies is different from the drought of the landscape,” he said.

Even after a very wet rainy season, groundwater monitoring does not generally show significant improvement within one year, said Jenine Jones, drought director for the California Department of Water Resources.

Jones also provided some “big picture” perspective on the rain that has fallen in California this season so far.

It’s passed a lot in a short time — 6 to 9 inches across most of Sonoma County over the 10 days ending Friday, with much of it arriving in the middle of last week. That brought Santa Rosa’s season-to-date total to about 108% of normal, according to the National Weather Service. The water season runs from October 1 to September 30 of the following year.

It’s still only the early part of January, Jones said, and with forecasts accurate enough to provide about a week of high-accuracy forecasts, there’s no way to know if the spigot will turn off, as it has before.

“On average, half of our precipitation in California is in December, January and February,” Jones said. “We’re only a third of the way through the regular season. It’s too early to say where we’ll be in March, which is when we’ll be able to get a feel for our water supply conditions.

She added, “I can’t resist noticing, that part of the noise and chatter about this is that we’ve been in a drought for so long, people have forgotten what the weather looks like in the winter.”

In Sonoma County and elsewhere around northern and central California, last week’s rain made a huge impact largely because two major storms—December 27 and New Year’s Eve—covered the ground, meaning every new inch of rain fell instantly. Towards the nearest ditch, creek, creek or river.

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