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Drought designations for California don't budge despite series of Pacific storms

A series of Pacific storms—some of them rather strong—are showing promising signs of a wet rainy season for the Central Coast and California.

Meteorologists have made it abundantly clear following each passing storm that the rainfall received was not enough to end the drought.

It's hard for people to comprehend when they see images of flooding throughout the state.

So how much will it take, and where do we sit currently?

Brad Rippey is a Meteorologist with the USDA and tracks California’s water needs through the National Drought Mitigation Center. 

RANDOL WHITE: Brad, is this most recent storm not reason for us to be hopeful?

BRAD RIPPEY: No, this is great news! This is the best rainfall and snowfall we’ve seen come to California in about two years. You have to go back to December 2012 to find a similarly stormy period. That December 2012 did occur in the middle of drought, we do have periods of wet weather that sometimes occur within drought. We won’t know right away whether this drought is dented or significantly reduced, I think we’re gonna have to wait well into the spring to really find out the final answer. One storm does not a drought kill, and certainly we need a series of storms like we started seeing back right after Thanksgiving to continue for many months to really put a significant dent in this historic three year drought.

RANDOL WHITE: So, the drought monitor map shows California with colored bands of different shades of red, the darkest red meaning exceptional drought. Most of the state, more than fifty percent, exists in that. The central coast has been in that the longest, or among the longest. Has the most recent one that was released changed the make-up of those red bands at all?

BRAD RIPPEY: The latest drought monitor, which came out on the morning of December 11th and is valid with data through December 9th, indicated no change for California. We were just starting to see the significant rains falling the week after Thanksgiving. And we did see widespread two to four inch, and even locally up close to ten inch amounts, prior to the release of this drought monitor. Because of the cumulative effect, the damaging impact of the three year drought, it’s going to take a few more storms before we really start to see a dent in this drought. Now, having been an author of the U.S drought monitor for about 15 years, I can say that given the storminess we’re seeing right now in California and expecting more in early next week; we may well see at least a small chipping-away of this extreme to exceptional drought by the time we release next week’s drought monitor, which will be on December 18th.

RANDOL WHITE: So, the rains that we’ve received thus far, because of how dry the state really is, has benefitted mostly the top soil?

BRAD RIPPEY: It’s interesting. The effects to the naked eye are actually fairly apparent and visible. First, you see the grass start to growing up, so you’ve got the top soil beginning to moisten up, and in cases where you get extremely heavy rainfall, there is even runoff and flooding. It’s an irony of drought that soils that have been parched by drought for many months or years are less receptive to heavy rainfalls. So, you actually get more runoff from drought-stricken soils than you would ordinary soils that have continually received rain. But it’s some of the hidden areas where we don’t get the improvement right away. Obviously reservoirs will take many, many months, if not years, to restore levels there. And another important point about this rain that’s beginning to fall, it will not immediately recharge the sub-soil moisture and the ground water. That’s also going to take many months or years to recover.

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