Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

California 2007: Drought or No Drought?

The 2006-07 rainy season in California has been something of a bust. From the Central California coast to the Sierra Nevada, we seem to have received about 50-60% of normal precipitation. We had above normal precipitation during the previous two seasons, so it seems that the climatological pendulum is swinging back the other way.

News reports ask whether we are entering another drought period. On one hand, a season of half-of-normal precipitation is normal in California, in the sense that it falls within the historical range of variation. Things become a bit less normal if the situation continues over several years. Even that would not be surprising – we just had two above normal years, why couldn’t we have a couple below-normal years? Along these lines, water experts are quoted as saying “we don’t have a problem.” Yet. Reservoir levels are still high after the two previous wet years.

But having sufficient water available in reservoirs for human use does not negate the fact that the state is in a drought condition now. The natural world is clearly affected by this: the spring growth is subdued by comparison to the past two years, and things looked downright arid in Southern California a few weeks ago. The lack of rainfall will certainly affect the state’s natural environment this year.

Being a hiker and backpacker, I’m always interested in effects that may alter my experience during the upcoming season. It seems quite likely to me that:

  • The high country will open up earlier this year. (See my earlier note about opening dates for Tioga Pass road.)
  • Spring skiing isn’t going to last very long – go now!
  • Yosemite Valley waterfalls will be spectacular as always – but earlier, not for as long, and you may think “they were better last year.” Don’t wait until June to visit.
  • It may be possible to backpack over the higher Sierra Nevada passes a week or two earlier this year – go early and avoid the crowds.
  • With luck, the peak of the mosquito season will come earlier and not last as long. But they’ll still be awful in the wrong places at the wrong time…
  • By August many seasonal streams will dry up. During the last couple of years many of these streams kept flowing later in the season or never dried up at all.
  • High country fall will seem to come earlier. One day in mid-to-late August I expect to be sitting on a rock in the Tuolumne Meadows area and get hit by the feeling/realization that the end of another summer season is just around the corner. Vegetation will begin to change color and go dormant earlier.
  • Oddly, while fall will seem to start earlier in the high country, it will also seem to last longer and some of the changes may be stretched out over a longer period.

It will be fun to look back at this post next October… :-)


March 29, 2007 - Posted by | Commentary

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