Before the coffee was ready Tuesday morning, the rainless January went from being the driest on record in Fresno to just another drought footnote — .09 of an inch of rain had fallen.
If more than .40 of an inch accumulates before Saturday, January won’t even make the top 10 driest in Fresno.
A little storm can come through and rain on Fresno records, but I’m driving at something else: This is winter in capricious California. Wildfires, blizzards, killing frosts, dry spells, howling wind, pleasant sunny days, drizzling storms and fog happen in January.
It’s pretty easy to lose sight of what’s really going on this winter if you’re just following news headlines about the weather of the moment. So let me make it clear.
Overall, it’s not as dry out there as it was last year. But even without setting records, the state is headed for another epic dry year unless the storm door opens soon. The storm passing through on Tuesday did not hammer the Sierra with a lot of snow.
It was different last month because we didn’t have the freakish bump, called a high pressure system. With no atmospheric bump to push storms away, the headlines reported the storms battering California gave the Bay Area its wettest-ever start to December.
At one point, San Jose had more than 700% of its usual rainfall. Downtown San Francisco had nearly 3.5 inches of rain one day in December.
Through Tuesday morning, the city had zero for all of January.
California has a ringside seat on the Pacific Ocean, so it sometimes does get blasted with storms. Tamarack in the Stanislaus National Forest, north of Yosemite National Park, was famous decades ago for setting snow records during those big events.
I’m talking about the 884 inches of snow in winter of 1906-07. That’s more than 73 feet of snow. Be glad you don’t own a driveway there.
But it wasn’t such a big winter everywhere in California that year. A little more than 100 miles away from Tamarack, Fresno got 10.84 inches of rain the same winter. That’s pretty close to an average year.
Back to the present. Rainfall totals looked pretty healthy last month in most places around the state. They’re slumping badly now in many areas.
But, as I’ve written here before, those rainfall numbers are not nearly the whole story this year. Keep your eye on the Sierra snowpack, where more than half of California’s water is on ice.
The snowpack is only 27% of average for this time of year. More importantly, it is only 15% of April 1, the unofficial end of the wet season.
It will take at least three significant storms to make any kind of comeback now. It has happened before, but will it happen this year? The three-year drought is slowly beginning to look like a four-year drought now.