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Regional Interests

Watch How California’s Drought Took Over This Winter

National Drought Mitigation Center

With very few big storms this winter across the state, extreme drought now grips much of California, including the entire Bay Area. Water restrictions are in effect in 41 counties, and thousands of people are under evacuation orders in Southern California as a brush fire in the Palisades continues to burn.

California’s parched condition is the result of multiple dry years and a lack of big storms, called atmospheric rivers, that douse the state with rain and snow.

With summer fast approaching, Jeff Nothwehr, GIS and web specialist for the National Drought Mitigation Center, created an animated gif for KQED showing the progression of California’s drought conditions since last September.

The Bay Area received roughly half of its normal precipitation in 2019-20, followed by around 40% of normal this year, says Brian Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area. 

“When we don’t see atmospheric rivers during the winter months, we are in a world of hurt for precipitation for water in our state,” he said. “This year, we saw one atmospheric river really make its way across a portion of the Bay Area.”

Garcia said there’s little hope for significant rain this summer across California, adding that “there is a 0% chance, statistically speaking” that the state’s water levels could rise to a normal level by the end of September, when the official water year ends.

“We would need almost 14 inches in downtown San Francisco to reach normal, and there is not a chance we’re gonna get that through the rest of the water year,” he said.

But Garcia says the outlook for a forthcoming wetter winter is better, and that climate models predict a “better shot” of more atmospheric rivers forming next winter.

“It looks like a much more normal type of season next year,” he said. “As we get deeper into summer and into early fall that picture will become more and more clear.”

You can check out the probability of recovering from drought for a specific location based on historic data at the Western Regional Climate Center’s website.

KQED compiled a list of Bay Area water agencies calling for water restrictions.

Copyright 2021 KQED