A Hot, Dry Winter in California. Could the item Be Drought Again?

Atmospheric conditions of which helped create the recent multiyear California drought have returned, leaving the state dry along with also exceptionally warm This particular winter along with also its residents wondering if another long dry spell can be on the way.

A ridge of high-pressure air off the West Coast has persisted for much of the past three months, blocking many Pacific storms coming from reaching California along with also weakening others of which do get through. Normally such ridges tend to come along with also go, however they also lingered during the 2012-16 drought, the worst inside state’s history.

“We are currently seeing another year of which looks like one of those drought years,” said Daniel Swain, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of the Environment along with also Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, who during the drought coined the term “ridiculously resilient ridge” to describe the atmospheric pattern.

“This particular one can be definitely a resilient ridge, however we don’t know if the item’s quite reaching the ‘ridiculous’ threshold,” said Dr. Swain, who blogs about California’s weather.

By one measure, at least, drought has already returned. According to the United States Drought Monitor, most of the southern half of California can be currently experiencing moderate or severe drought, a marked change coming from three months ago, when less than 10 percent of the state was in moderate drought along with also no part was in severe drought.

The Los Angeles area has been especially dry. Dr. Swain said of which Los Angeles has had only one 24-hour period with rainfall of more than one-third of an inch in nearly a year. The one exception, Jan. 8-9, was the day the Santa Barbara area just to the north was inundated with even more rain, leading to deadly mudslides.

however overall, the current conditions are far less extreme than in 2015 along with also 2016, at the tail end of the drought. At times in 2015 more than half the state was considered to be in extreme drought, the drought monitor’s highest category. of which spring, the state imposed a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use in urban areas.

State water officials note of which This particular year, as a result of the drought-ending rains of a year ago, there can be plenty of water in California’s reservoirs, so there are no critical supply issues of which could lead to similar restrictions.

Even so, the dry, warm weather of which has persisted since late fall can be taking a toll, with snowpack inside Sierra Nevada — the source of about one-third of California’s water — at 21 percent of normal on Monday. Without a flurry of storms to add to the snowpack inside next few months, the low snowpack could eventually lead to supply problems, especially if dry conditions persist for the next few years.

State officials measured the snowpack inside Sierra Nevada last month.CreditJim Wilson/The brand new York Times

The high-pressure ridge tends to shunt storms north toward British Columbia, said Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather along with also Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“the item’s very normal to have a ridge,” said Dr. Ralph, who studies so-called atmospheric rivers, trails of tropical moisture of which in a normal year are responsible for much of California’s precipitation. “the item usually breaks down at some point along with also packs of storms break through.”

A few studies have suggested of which the persistence of such blocking ridges in certain parts of the entire world may be linked to climate change. however a range of conditions inside Pacific Ocean not necessarily related to climate change, including El Niño along with also La Niña, can contribute to the formation along with also positioning of a ridge, Dr. Swain said.

The thin California snowpack can be also a function of high temperatures. Following a record warm summer along with also fall inside state, temperatures have continued well above normal This particular winter. inside Sierra town of Truckee, Calif., on Thursday the high temperature, 64, was 21 degrees above the historical average.

“What we’re seeing can be more precipitation as rain than as snow,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources. The warmer temperatures raise the snow line, the elevation above which the item can be cold enough of which precipitation falls as snow. They also cause what snow there can be to melt faster.

Rain runs off immediately, while snowpack serves as a reservoir of water of which can be released over time as the item melts. So, alterations inside proportions of snow along with also rain along with also the rate of snowmelt can affect the availability along with also timing of water for people, industry along with also agriculture.

The snowpack conditions inside Sierra This particular year may be an extreme example of what scientists suggest will be the case with climate change — of which as average temperatures rise, average snowpack will decline, perhaps by as much as 25 percent by midcentury.

The blocking pattern inside atmosphere has also brought warm, dry conditions to the Rocky Mountains along with also the Colorado River basin, said Greg Smith, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

“The pattern can be very strong This particular year,” Mr. Smith said. Most of the storms track to the north of the region, he said, “along with also the storms of which do come in tend to be weak.”

The situation inside lower Colorado basin — most of Arizona along with also parts of Utah, brand new Mexico, Nevada along with also California — can be especially bad, with snow totals at or near record lows at many locations.

As in California, the upper Colorado basin — parts of Arizona, brand new Mexico, Utah, Colorado along with also Wyoming — had plenty of snow runoff last year, Mr. Smith said. however without significant snowfall by April, even the upper basin will suffer. His forecast for the runoff This particular year into Lake Powell, the reservoir at the junction of the upper along with also lower basins, can be the seventh-lowest in history, with expectations of which the reservoir will receive less than half of its usual supply coming from melting snowpack.

“There’s definitely some concern for supplies in some areas as we see these forecast numbers drop,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re kind of hopeful we’ll see a pattern change inside next couple of months. We’re running out of time.”

Henry Fountain covers climate change, using a focus on the innovations of which will be needed to overcome the item. He can be the author of “The Great Quake,” a book about the 1964 Alaskan earthquake. @henryfountainFacebook