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California on pace for driest year in recorded history

By Carlo Falco
Published On: Dec 16 2013 07:24:40 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 16 2013 07:36:32 PM CST
REDDING, Calif. -

California is on pace to see the driest calendar year on record.

Those records go back to 1893 or 120 years.

But 120 years isn’t even a blip on the radar in geologic time, and California’s climate has been this way since around the time of the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago.

That means there are reasonably accurate climate records that cover only 0.012% of the region’s climate.

Studies on tree growth can show rainfall amounts based on growth rates for specific rainfall years.

Those studies have shown that back into the 18th century and beyond, rain was just as variable as today.

The studies also showed that although the precipitation numbers can vary widely year to year, the rainfall amounts generally averaged out to near normal.

In fact, a brief study of the precipitation records showed that there are vastly more dry or wet years than “normal” rainfall years.

That indicates very unpredictable and unstable rainfall patterns with near equal years of droughts and floods.

Those yearly disparities are evident right up to the present.

Last year, Redding saw 36.45 inches of rain, about two inches more rain than average, and this year we’ve yet to receive 13 inches of rain or 37% of our normal rainfall.

This has happened before.  In 1976, Shasta Dam received 24.59 inches of rain, 41% of their normal 62.04 inches.

The following year the dam received a full 36.55 inches more rain than average for a total of 98.59 inches.

That narrative has played out several years in a row too.

Dry stretches have lasted between 1986 and 1991, where there were five straight years with below normal rainfall.

But those have been balanced out by stretches like 1994 to 1998 and 2002 to 2006 where the rainfall was greater than average.

And the variations continue from there all the way back to when the records started in 1943.

The wild swings can occur month to month inside a given year as well.

In 1995, January received 38.21 inches of rain whereas February of the same year received only 2.66 inches of rain.

Similarly in 2009 Shasta Dam received only 0.52 inches of rain in January, while in the very next month 20.77 inches of precipitation fell.

In fact, many of the dams in California were built specifically to control the feast or famine climate of the west coast.

The dams are designed to save the water for when the state needs it and to hold the flood waters back when we receive too much.

This isn’t the first time California has seen a bad drought and likely won’t be the last time.

The best we can do now is hope for rain, and enjoy the sunshine.