Dry year has large effects in Sacramento region

Alex Slavas

In what is generally considered to be the one of the wettest months of the year, the Sacramento area has been struck with less than half of the 17 to 20 inches usually encountered during the month of January.

“This water year’s rainfall is approximately 40 to 45 percent of normal,” said Jim Wanket, associate geography professor at Sacramento State.

Wanket said a water year, a 12-month period in which water data is gathered, occurs between the months of October and the following September – like a fiscal year for rain. A dry year is typically characterized by wet storms that hit during October and November and dwindle throughout December and January, which is a pattern this year has followed.

If two dry years occur one after the other, Wanket said it may call for mandatory storage, or conservation of water.

If trends like this continue, he said it could have an effect on the campus.

“Sacramento State uses a great amount of water to nourish all of the trees on campus,” Wanket said. “If we continue to see repeated dry years, we can expect to see more conservation of the water used on campus.”

La Niña, the opposite of El Niño, happens when the waters of the tropical Pacific are colder than normal, resulting in dryer conditions in California. El Niño is a different weather pattern – warmer waters but wet.

“Some of the weather trends we are facing is a common pattern in La Niña years,” Wanket said, “Wetter weather in northern areas, such as Oregon, is something we would expect for a year like this.”

Although the weather is following the pattern of an average La Niña, there are some occurrences that are not typical, such as wet weather in the San Diego area, Wanket said.

“The jet stream is a big influence on where storms go,” Wanket said.

A jet stream is like a flowing river of air, moving from place to place. It has been stagnant in the north most of the winter, which is why the area has kept dry for so long, Wanket said.

The lengthy period of dry conditions led Lauren Ibarra, senior kinesiology major, to question if the wet weather she associates with this season would ever arrive.

“I am glad it finally feels like winter,” Ibarra said. “For a while there it felt like we weren’t even going to have a winter season.”

Ibarra said she and her friends had to cancel plans to learn how to snowboard.

“We were waiting for the rain to come so we could go to the snow while on break, but it didn’t start raining until school started,” Ibarra said.

She said she even made plans for simple outdoor activities such as playing basketball and longboarding during the dry period.

“When it got really warm, me and my friends even talked about going to the beach,” Ibarra said.

Although the stretch of time with no rain may have enabled students to enjoy the outdoors, Wanket said there have been adverse effects from the absence of wet weather.

“Some of the cattle ranching areas are having to buy feed, because the rains didn’t allow the grass to grow,” Wanket said.

Short-term consequences of the lack of rain are not as prominent as the long-term, because the natural vegetation does not need water this time of year, Wanket said.

“The real impact won’t hit until summer,” Wanket said. “As of right now, we can count on a dry summer because that is when we use the most water.”

The snowfall so far this year fell 40 percent of the average, which will hinder the replenishment of reservoirs.

Wanket said it is likely our area will have to draw down reservoirs to compensate for the lack of snow and rainfall this water year.

“Our area has a complex water system, which allows us to cope with droughts for two years,” Wanket said. “Beyond that point, it becomes critical.”

In contrast, Boreal Mountain Resort, a ski and snowboard location in Truckee, has noticed little change in their college student presence.

“We are tracking along right on budget this season,” said Jon Slaughter, marketing director for the resort.

The resort features special events such as “Frickin’ Fridays,” where college students can purchase lift tickets for $15 after presenting a valid student ID.

“We seem to be having a consistent amount of college student traffic on Fridays,” Slaughter said.

In order to compensate for the lack of natural snow, Boreal Mountain Resort had to produce 75 to 80 percent of its terrain coverage.

Considering California maintains such extremes instead of norms in terms of weather, it poses as a balancing act during wet and dry times.

“Last year was a fairly wet year,” Wanket said. “We received a good amount of snow, which will help us out during dry times.”

Alex Slavas can be reached at news@statehornet.com.