Dry season with summer fast approaching renews drought threat in Sonoma County
Battered by fires, flooding, power outages and a mass evacuation in recent years, Sonoma County residents now have to brace for revival of the D-word — for drought.
Beneath the rolling green hills and blooming spring flowers lies a grim recollection of the most recent five-year drought, which ended in 2016.
Sonoma County experienced a bone-dry February, a first in the area’s history and the nadir of a rain season, now nearly over, that has given Santa Rosa just 18 inches of rain — well over a foot shy of the nearly 34-inch average for this time of year. Last year, the city had about 44 inches of rain at this time.
Only three places in Sonoma County currently have at least 20 inches to date. Most locations had from 30 to more than 60 inches of precipitation a year ago,
There’s a skimpy chance of rain this weekend, but long-range forecasts see no precipitation for the rest of the month or in June, when Mother Nature’s tap typically turns off.
Joe Pozzi, a west county sheep and cattle rancher, paused for a beat to ponder the drought question.
“I would say yes,” he said. “Just because of the little amount of rain we’ve had.”
Farm ponds haven’t filled due to lack of runoff this spring and his livestock are eating the grass as fast as it sprouts.
“Usually by this time of year the grass is growing faster than the animals can consume it,” Pozzi said.
The nation’s drought sentinel concurred.
More than one-third of California (36%) was in moderate or severe drought, the two lowest of four drought designations, the U.S. Drought Monitor said last week. Sonoma County and most of the Bay Area were in a band of moderate drought that looped into the Central Valley and reached the Nevada border.
A band of severe drought extended from Oregon down to the northern parts of Mendocino and Lake counties and had, in just the previous week, swelled from a small bulge into Siskiyou County. It could spread farther south in the two nearby counties, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center who compiles the Drought Monitor.
Nearly 13% of the state was in severe drought last week, jumping up from just 1.3% the previous week. About 23% of the state was designated abnormally dry last week, which is not considered drought.
A year ago, there was no drought in California with a 6% portion abnormally dry at the southernmost end of the state.
Three months ago, the state was also drought-free with a 6% abnormally dry patch at the northern tip of California.
Adding to the weather anomaly this year, a tongue of moderate drought that had reached Los Angeles in mid-March retreated north of the San Luis Obispo and Kern county lines last week, driven out by record-breaking rain that left the entire southland free of drought and abnormally dry conditions.
The result was an “upside-down” rain season, with a wet south and a dry north, reversing the usual polarity, Fuchs said. “Typically, Northern California is the wetter part of the state,” he said.