2013: California’s Driest Calendar Year, Ice and Cold in Vermont

2013 is winding down, and with 2014 comes an unwanted record; the driest overall calendar year ever recorded in California.

Two caveats come with this. One is that calendar year precipitation amounts can be relatively meaningless, because the rainy season occurs in winter. The second is that this record only applies to actual recorded precipitation. Tree rings and other data indicate the state has seen much worse droughts in the past.

None of those droughts happened with a population of 38 million people in the state, of course. Even the drought of 76-77 was one faced by a significantly less populous state. So far there are not extreme water shortages, but there is little sign of change going at least half way into January, typically one of the wettest months of the year. If February and March aren’t extremely wet, especially in the Sierras where the snowpack feeds the water needs of much of the state, next summer will mean extreme water shortages. If you live in California, now would be a good time to get rid of your lawn or tropical landscaping, plant native plants and/or succulents, and set up a rooftop rainwater collection system to collect what does fall for the rest of the rainy season. If you live anywhere in the US, and have the space and time, it would be a good idea to plant a big garden this year. Despite how it seems in some areas, California isn’t just lawns. It also produces a huge chunk of the nation’s food.

Vermont has also been experiencing something that hasn’t happened in a while… in this case, a cold winter. This winter so far has been characterized by blasts of extremely cold air punctuated by occasional warmer storms. Some of these storms have brought rain or even ice storms.The result has been very cold temperatures and not a lot of lasting snow to play in. The weekend before Christmas brought a very odd weather pattern where a heavy rainstorm moved into the area, but northerly winds brought very cold air into the Champlain Valley. Burlington is usually one of the warmest parts of the state, but in this case it stayed in the 20s while temperatures approached or passed 50 in other areas with heavy rain. The result was a heavy ice storm.

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A chunk of salt on icy pavement left this interesting pattern.

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It’s hard to say what the future holds, but at least in the short term it looks like more of the same. Not much hope of rain any time soon in California. In Vermont, even colder temperatures are in store for the next few days, with a few shots at a couple of inches of snow. Early next week another larger storm may impact the area, and one computer model indicates more rain or ice while another suggests mostly snow. We’ll see! I hope for the latter. We tried going for a short cross country ski on the icy snow today, and it wasn’t very fun.

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