April 05, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown Gets Nature's Cooperation

The front pages of the Seattle Times and the NY Times today have dealt at depth with the California drought.   California Governor Jerry Brown has given a number of press conferences on the subject.

You HAD to know that the atmosphere would take notice of all this drought talk and the rain dancing of local and national politicians.  Sort of the modern version of a Native American rain dance, a venerable tradition in our country.
An Apache rain dancer with obvious skill

There is a particular emphasis on rain dancing in the Southwest U.S., The Pueblo's are well known for their intricate dancers...and unlike some Native American rituals, both men and women were usually involved. Rain dancing is serious business that affects the entire community.

The latest model runs show a distinct change in atmospheric circulation this week, and appears fairly similar to typical El Nino patterns in which the SW U.S. get wets.  The big change has been replacement of the West Coast high pressure ridge by a deep trough that is pushing down into California (see map at 500 hPa, around 18K feet):

Here is the precipitation forecast for the next 72 h. Northern California gets hit by up to 5 inches of liquid water.

But what is particularly impressive about this event is the forecast snow...here are the 72h totals: 1-2 feet at some of the higher elevations of the Sierra, southern Cascades, and Siskiyou Mountains.

Precipitation this time of the year is particularly prized...much more valuable than in December since April rain not only fills reservoirs, but moistens the soils as California enters the dry season.

The National Weather Service cumulative rainfall over the next 16 days shows a wet California:

And the NOAA Climate Prediction Center predicts above normal 6-10 days rainfall over California.
Don't get me wrong:  California is in a serious drought.   But although the snowpack is very poor, the reservoir levels are much better than last  year and this event will help slow down the spring drying. One also has to note that Californian's are often wasteful with water, with green lawns and golf courses where native plants would be better choices.   Many inappropriate, water-demanding crops are grown in the state.  

You want to see something ironic?  Here is the average per capita RESIDENTIAL water usage for some cities around the U.S.   Sacramento, where Jerry Brown lives, is the highest, followed by tony Palo Alto, home of many environmentally minded folks.  The lowest water usage?  Seattle!   So the folks who have the most water use the least. We are in a position to provide some tough love to our California brethren.

Finally, I understand that Governor Jerry Brown asked some of his aides to arrange an Indian rain dance in which he would participate.   Consider the image below, perhaps someone made a mistake:


  1. In that table, does agricultural use get charged to the city that grows the food, or the city that eats it? Likewise for other use of water as an input...

  2. Eli makes a great point. Sacramento and Fresno are both cities surrounded by agriculture, and the agricultural uses are probably the heaviest contributors to their numbers.

    The central CA valley is "America's fruit basket". Much of the US, and the Western US in particular get our fruit and vegetable supplies from the central valley. Their water cuts and increased water costs will get passed on to all of us in the form of higher food prices.

  3. Seattlites don't even have lawns in many parts of the city, and those yards tend to look the best because of the beautiful landscaping. I'm anti-lawn. They're ugly anyway! And there is a certain zen to a rock garden or simply blending into the natural environment - more Californians should embrace that in my opinion.

  4. No one has a monopoly on irony like California does. The Swiss firm Nestlé drew 50 million gallons from Sacramento sources last year, just shy of how much water flows from home faucets in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, Nestlé may be bottling more than locals drink from the tap.

    Head on down to one of our local Costco stores and watch folks from the Pugetropolis rainforests hauling away this bottled-in-Sacramento Nestlé water by the cases! Go figure.

  5. Agricultural uses of water MUST trump lawns and golf courses. For over thirty years my parents had a spectacular cactus and succulent garden at their home in Bakersfield. They brought in sandy, desert type soil and those plants grew to be huge. They fought like crazy to keep the lawn green and used lots of water in the process. I say yes to encouraging plants and landscapes using plants that are accustomed to growing in hot dry climates.

  6. Sacramento has traditionally not even metered its water connections! Only now are they starting to change that, and it's going to be years before the process is complete.

    Comparing Seattle to arid cities is perhaps unfair; because of our natural rainfall we have less need for watering. But I notice that Santa Fe, an arid city, does nearly as well as Seattle does -- surely California cities can at least match Santa Fe.

  7. Interesting numbers Cliff. You have to wonder if Sacramento and Fresno are skewed especially high because of farming in the Central Valley.


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