It’s raining… it’s pouring… but it’s still a drought

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/09/noaa-droughtseverityindex-09-15-2007-thumb.gifOutside of the rainfall we actually had last night, I’ve heard a lot of arguments this year about the perceived lack of rainfall in LA.

I’ve heard some people argue vehemently that we could be facing “the perfect drought.” (See LA City Beat, 6/14/07, [The Perfect Drought] or Reuters, 4/2/07 [In record dry spell LA fears the perfect drought]).

I’ve heard others tell me that “we’re not technically having a drought.” During the Griffith Park fire back in May [More on KTLA], one of the things mentioned by Markland (both in person to me at the b.la garage sale and on blogging.la) was that was that the LADWP was saying that there was no drought. During the coverage about the fire, Markland made the following comment…

…Hal Fishman [RIP, Hal Fishman] said “We’re not in a severe drought, we’re in an EXTREME drought.”

I spoke with the DWP a couple weeks ago who said it would take a couple years of minimal rainfall for the city of L.A. to be in a technical drought.

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/09/NDMC-ca_dm-%2009-20-2007-thumb.pngYet a month later, in June, 5000! made a post [Not a drop to drink] about this being “Los Angeles’ driest year since we began keeping records in 1872. That’s 135 years! According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, [a joint effort between federal and academic partners], the region is now in an “extreme” drought state, the second-driest ranking bestowed by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.” (The California chart and map is from the NDMC U.S. Drought Monitor released on 09/20/2007. You can drill in on the U.S. map down to detailed state information.)

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/09/noaa-usdroughtoutlook%20-%2009-20-2007-thumb.gifThe National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Report which provides the drought tendency for the U.S. over a 3 month period. (See the brown/green U.S. map shown)

National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (CPC) also does Drought Monitoring and releases a weekly “Long Term Palmer” report.

The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and Crop Moisture Index (CMI) are indices of the relative dryness or wetness effecting water sensitive economies. The data is provided in graphical and tabular formats, for the contiguous United States. (The orange/yellow/green US Map shown at the top of the entry)


Using the insights of various organizations, a weekly drought assessment called the U.S. Drought Monitor is released every Thursday.

On each Thursday, the CPC, together with the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, issues a weekly drought assessment called the United States Drought Monitor. The Monitor provides a consolidated depiction of national drought conditions based on a combination of drought indicators and field reports. The [National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center] CPC issues the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook each month in conjunction with the release of the long-lead temperature and precipitation outlooks on the third Thursday of each month. Updates to the Seasonal United States Drought Outlook are issued the first Thursday of each month.

I’m not sure who gets to determine when there is or isn’t “technically” a drought, but with all due respect to Markland, I’m going to trust these federal sources, whose primary business is studying, observing, and reporting on droughts, over somebody over at the LADWP. (Although I’m not sure what the LADWP stands to gain by not admitting there is a drought.)

I believe the facts point to a drought here in L.A., and this could have impacts to our local fire seasons, snow fall/ski seasons, our [potentially mandatory] water conservation efforts, and more. In my personal opinion, we need a lot more of the weather we had last night (rain) to mitigate the conditions we’re experiencing in Southern California. Regardless, “drought” or “no drought,” we ought to behave as though we live in a desert (oh wait! we do!) when it comes to our water consumption.

[If anyone is curious, of all the sources I referenced for this post, the most comprehensive is the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s CPC U.S. Drought Monitor.]

Images above clickable to enbigable. Courtesy of:
National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (CPC) Drought Monitoring – Palmer Reporting
National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) – U.S. Drought Monitor
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Report

6 Replies to “It’s raining… it’s pouring… but it’s still a drought”

  1. Very nice article.

    Actually Joz the entire western states have been in extreme drought for something like 9 years. CA, and LA in particular are going to feel it really bad. The MWD reports that the agencies it services could be facing water cutbacks with reductions to businesses and homes in the next couple of months. These restrictions and fines to those who abouse could be in place for at least another 2 years.

    The 2 major reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell are less than 50% capacity, they were over capacity 10 years ago. Some predictions are that both will be dry in 10 years unless the water coming to CA, NV and AZ is severely curtailed. Things are pretty dire for not just LA but PHX and LV as well.

    What has hurt us so bad is that a Federal Judge restricted pumping from the delta which is going to cut our water supplies drastically.

    Yes the rain is nice, 3rd day this week it did so here in my ‘hood. First 2 days were traces, but so far I have an inch built up. A nice start but a very long way from restoring our water tables and reservoirs.

  2. Hey – I was just passing on what the nice PR person at the LADWP said… who never followed up on her promise to have someone call me to get into more detail. But, it had something to with it taking a few years of these dry “drought like” conditions for us to enter a “technical drought”.

    That said, I LOVED the rain last night. I never like the rain.

  3. Part of the confusion stems from the difference between “drought”=”we haven’t had much rainfall locally” and “drought”=”our water supplies are getting low.”

    Because LA’s water supply comes from many different – and mostly distant – sources, it’s possible to have a record low rainfall year locally without having any water-supply shortage.

    Our water supply comes mostly from the watersheds of the Owens Valley, the Colorado River, and the northern Sierras (via the DWP LA aqueduct, the MWD Colorado River aqueduct, and the State Water Project, respectively).

    The proximate cause of impending water restrictions, however, has more to do with recent court decisions that have reduced supplies from the Owens Valley and the Northern Sierras, as well as other states like Arizona increasing their use of Colorado River water (which they’ve long been legally entitled to, but haven’t always used).

    Local rainfall has very little to do with water-supply shortages. Most local groundwater comes from deep aquifers that aren’t much affected by a year or two of low rainfall, and (at least as far as the City of LA goes) only provide about 15% of our total supply, even in the wettest years.

  4. Hmm..LA Mapnerd look at what I said. The whole western US in prolonged drought and MWD is threatened because of a court ruling up north restricting our access there. Our allotment out of the CO Basin is reduced and will be more so in the near future. LA Metro and So Cal are going to be hurting as the water supplies are disappearing. I’m lucky in that my community water needs are met by our own wells so I’ll skate a bit before we have problems as severe.

    Check these links for more details.
    http://sacramentofordemocracy.org/?q=node/view/9749
    http://www.drainit.org/campaigns/drought/
    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/2007-02-21-southwest-droughts_x.htm

  5. Every Spring, my grass grows strong and green after the rain. This is the first year when my grass hasn’t done that. That’s evidence enough for me that this year is unusually dry.

  6. (Frazgo, I was agreeing with you. Just pointing out that a local drought doesn’t necessarily mean a water shortage.)

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