UPDATE 1/17/14: Governor Brown Declares Drought State of Emergency
SAN FRANCISCO – With California facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions.
“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” said Governor Brown. “I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”
In the State of Emergency declaration, Governor Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages. The Governor also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated a greatly expanded water conservation public awareness campaign (details at saveourh2o.org).
In addition, the proclamation gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions.
State water officials say that California’s river and reservoirs are below their record lows. Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of normal average for this time of year.
The Governor’s drought State of Emergency follows a series of actions the administration has taken to ensure that California is prepared for record dry conditions. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights. In December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations, California’s preparedness for water scarcity and whether conditions merit a drought declaration. Earlier this week, the Governor toured the Central Valley and spoke with growers and others impacted by California’s record dry conditions.
To read the full proclamation, visit http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=18368
Unseasonably warm weather brings on Red Flag Warnings as elevated temperatures continue with no relief anytime soon.
By Mary O’KEEFE
“Oh, the weather outside is frightful.” Those opening lyrics for “Let It Snow” take on a whole new meaning these days in Southern California.
Recent local weather may make us the envy of the country – with images of Californians strolling along beaches and having picnics in the bright sunshine – but what glitters is not always gold.
“This year  we had the driest calendar year in historical record,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The normal rainfall for the Los Angeles area is 15 inches, but last year was a meager 3.6 inches.
“We have been talking drought from California to Texas and Oregon to Colorado,” Patzert said. The “Pacific decadal oscillation” is what Patzert said has warmed the waters in the upper Pacific.
Although the governor has yet to officially proclaim the current situation as a California drought, Patzert said the state is facing a drought and added the state has been in a drought for years. He said that California is now in an extreme drought.
“It is somewhat of an invisible drought,” he said. “No one is telling us to ration water, your neighbor can still water [his/her] lawn five days a week.”
But Joe Sirard, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Oxnard said regardless of governmental instructions, “we should always conserve water.”
Windy weather is another cause of concern. At present the NWS has declared a Red Flag Warning and Wind Advisory for the foothills through Jan. 17 at 3 p.m. Sirard said the winds, gusting to 25 miles per hour, will fluctuate and may not be windy for an entire night, which is “the nature of winds.”
On Wednesday, record high temperatures in the upper 80s Fahrenheit were set in downtown Los Angeles and in the Burbank area. The normal temperatures for January are in the high 60s.
The lack of rainfall is just another piece to the “perfect storm” scenario that is being created by Southern California’s sunny skies.
“The [dry fuel moisture] is in single digits, today at 3%, which is one of the lowest I have ever seen,” said Capt. Shawn Grizzard, B shift captain for Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Station 63. This low moisture level makes for dried out vegetation that can easily fuel a fire.
Sirard agreed that the dry fuel reading is exceptionally low with live fuels [vegetation] at 55% to 60%. “Ordinarily the live fuels are at 100%,” he said.
Due to the high temperatures, low humidity and winds, the fire department is on what is known as “augmented staffing.”
“We add extra [firefighters]. We put on extra patrols and water tenders. Fires in these conditions can become big fires very quickly,” Grizzard said.
The primary concern with any ongoing dry weather is fire and, although the Verdugo Mountains are dry, what worries Grizzard the most are home fires in the area. Pine trees surround many foothills homes and some residents need to take precautions even if they do not have trees.
“I will tell you the pine needles that litter the gutters are the most common way fire travels through houses,” he said. When residents don’t clean around their homes, not only does the chance of fire increase but so does the danger to firefighters.
Grizzard urges residents to visit the LACoFD website and follow their program “Ready! Set! Go!” to be prepared for evacuation due to fire or other emergencies.
For now the weather seems to be in a dry, hot holding pattern. Temperatures continue to look unusually high and the weather dry for the next seven days, with highs in the low to mid 80s.
“Saturday will drop into the 70s,” Sirard said, which is still above normal, and there is no rain in sight for seven to 10 days.
This dry pattern is not unusual; California has seen this type of dryness in the past, Patzert said. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the state was dry; then in ’80s and ’90s it was unusually wet.
“[The drought condition] is serious and we haven’t seen anything like this in awhile, since the mid 1940s and 1950s when the population of [L.A.] was 25% of what it is today,” Patzert said. “The remarkable thing is the infrastructure [to move water from one place to another] has kept pace.”
Because of this ability, he added, dry, hot conditions are less painful today then in the 1950s.
Although Southern California is not in a state-declared drought, the dry conditions with no end in sight make conserving water and preparing for whatever disaster may come the state’s way are good ideas.
“This is Southern California – anything can happen,” Sirard said. He advised to practice the old saying, “Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.”