PD Editorial: Facing facts after a hot, dry month

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It’s like some alternative version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” where an entire state has different weather experiences each year but keeps ending up in the same dry place. Such is where California finds itself at the beginning of February, back amid talk of conservation, rationing and drought.

All of the December hope for a wet winter is evaporated, thanks to what was one of the driest and hottest Januarys on record.

Locally, the month ended with three record-breaking days, including a Saturday afternoon when the temperature hit 80 degrees at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, shattering a previous record high of 68 in 2009. Records also were set on Friday and Sunday.

Across the state, it has been a similar story. January is typically California’s wettest month. But this year, little rainfall was recorded for the state. San Francisco recorded none for the month, a historic first.

Sonoma County is still in better shape than some parts of the state thanks to an atmospheric river that soaked the North Coast in December. Where would we be if not for those early storms which left 14.7 inches of rain in Petaluma, 19.5 inches in Santa Rosa and 26.6 inches to date in Cloverdale for the season?

But what’s unclear is whether local communities can count on much of anything from here on in. Even if the region receives more rainfall, it’s unlikely to make much of a dent in the state’s drought situation.

Measurements taken in the Sierra Nevada on Thursday show that snow levels are now roughly 25 percent of normal, which represents a massive drop down from 50 percent recorded just a month earlier. Researchers say temperatures were as much as 8 degrees Fahrenheit above average in the Sierra Nevada during January.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in mid-January as the snow pack fell to 20 percent of normal. The day is fast approaching when a similar declaration will be needed, if for no other reason than to get state and community leaders to shake off the notion that the torrential rains of December will return and face the awful truth that a fourth consecutive drought year is upon us. California had better get ready.

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