Throughout these weeks of rain, I’ve been regularly checking the rainfall totals and the lake level. It’s been like a game for me to see those percentages increasing day by day, and I kept wondering, if we reach 100 percent of what is considered normal annual rainfall, will that mean it is no longer accurate to say that we are in a drought?
I’m happy to report that where I live, we have reached and exceeded the 100-percent level of annual rainfall for only the second time in the last eight years, and while I don’t know exactly what the official definition for drought is, I see that according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map, we are — for this week, at least — no longer classified as a drought area.
As of Feb. 28, only 2.3 percent of the people in the state live in areas currently classified as drought conditions, and even those are at the most moderate levels. Compare this to three months ago when 83.66 percent of the state was under some level of drought condition, ranging from moderate to severe to extreme.
Seems to me this should warrant some sort of community ceremony, a celebratory dance, or at least a great big collective thank you to the weather gods. But then again, I don’t want to be accused of being a polytheist.
In looking at the amount of accumulated snow in the Sierra Nevada, I’m seeing numbers like 300 and 400 inches. I don’t know how that will translate later in the year when it melts, or how far through the state it will spread to impact groundwater and soil moisture levels, but it’s a lot of water, and it has to go somewhere, and if there’s one thing we know, it’s going to flow down from the upper to the lower elevations, and that means it will feed lakes and rivers and streams and creeks and, yes, some of it will flow out to the ocean.
Still, just because it’s wet doesn’t mean it’s not still dry, as 12.8 percent of the state remains “abnormally dry.” Just because the ground is soggy this week doesn’t mean it will remain moist throughout the year.
When rains stop, and the sun starts shining, and the wind starts blowing, and the days get longer, the ground will begin to dry out and some areas will slip back into drought status. So, even though we reached 100 percent of our annual rainfall, it’s not OK to leave the faucet on while brushing your teeth, and it’s not alright to be unmindful of water conservation.
But it is encouraging to know that at this time last year 48 percent of the state was in a drought, compared to only 2 percent this year. I think if we’re going to complain when things are bad, we should also acknowledge when things are good, and right now, this rain is good. It bodes well for the year ahead. It makes me hopeful that the “new normal” everyone was warning about a couple years ago, when we were saving shower water in pots and pans to use in the yard, might now be old for a while. I hope that this year we will be classified as merely “dry” rather than in a “drought.”
And because there is so much misinformation flying around, I hope that more of us will get better at identifying the reliability and the truthfulness of information. Beware those who would use outdated labels, claims, classifications and statistics to distort or try and describe today’s reality.
Things change. That goes for the weather and for people. I want to use the occasion of the rain to embrace when things change for the better.