California is now in its fourth year of drought. In a state this big precipitation varies widely, but for example, in Bakersfield the average annual precipitation is 6.4 inches and through the end of September roughly 4.5 inches. This year’s total at the end of September was 2.8 inches. The winter snowpack was almost non-existent this year. The lowest in 500 years according to some.
The State of California reports reservoir levels as of October 15 are roughly two-thirds below capacity and less than half historic averages. Some examples: Castaic Lake 31% of capacity (40% of year to date average); Don Pedro 31% of capacity (47% of average); Exchequer 8% of capacity (18% of average); Folsom Lake 17% of capacity (31% of average); Lake Oroville 29% of capacity (48% of average); Lake Perris 36% (47% of average); Millerton Lake 35% of capacity (90% of average); New Melones 11% of capacity (20% of average); Pine Flat 12% of capacity (34% of average); San Luis 18% of capacity (35% of average); Lake Shasta 33% of capacity (56% of average); and Trinity Lake 21% of capacity (32% of average).
Since early this year Californians have cut their total water usage. For June, July, and August the cumulative statewide savings rate was 28.7% equal to 611,566 acre-feet of water saved. The Governor’s office has set a goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet of water by February 2016. Some are seeing signs of a long-term shift in cultural attitudes toward water use. Last week the LA Times advocated public shaming of Southern California water hogs.
Since January 1 there have been 5942 wildfires in California, consuming 307,335 acres, almost triple a five year average.
All of which further complicates the already tough job of selling flood insurance in California.
Yet last week Accuweather reported accumulating evidence for a powerful 2015-2016 El Nino, beginning to impact California in late November into December.
The most likely, and most impactful, scenario during this winter is that California will get significant precipitation in the form of both rain and snow.
“California will be much more active weather-wise this winter than last winter,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Ben Noll said.
Copious amounts of rain from systems over the same area, a theme which occurs often during this type of weather pattern, can lead to problems for California.
Locals may be faced with flooding and mudslides, which could prove devastating for home and property owners. This will be especially problematic over recent burn scar areas, where rampant wildfires have charred millions of acres.
According to the Census Bureau there are 12,542,460 households in California. According to FEMA there are 229,538 flood insurance policies in force. Hmmm?
Last week NOAA and FEMA made a concerted effort across California to raise-the-warning and encourage preparations, including purchasing flood insurance. I happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time. City, county, and state officials are taking the flood risk very seriously. But it does require a particular exercise of the will to prepare for floods in the midst of drought.
And selling flood insurance in these conditions: How about ice to Eskimos or sand in Timbuktu or coal to Newcastle? There must be a better way to recognize and mitigate the risk.