Drought not nixed despite bouts of heavy rainfall

Over the weekend, the unfamiliar sound of the pitter patter of rain intensified to a din as people donned their rain boots and lugged around their waterlogged umbrellas in the first rainstorm that San Francisco has seen since March. Despite the early rainfall however, California’s drought is far from over.

In the space of three days last week, San Francisco received 1.18 inches of rainfall, according to meteorology professor Oswaldo Garcia, which is more than what the city received for the whole month of October last year. At San Francisco International Airport, 175 flights were cancelled and SF State dispatched a weather advisory to students.

However severe the rain may have been for the Bay Area, the severity of the drought is not over according to Jason Gurdak, an associate professor of geology at SF State, with an emphasis in hydrology.

“The drought monitor estimates that 33.7 million Californians are in locations that are experiencing the drought. So the drought is not truly over,” Gurdak said.

storm_calif-map_morin_newKatherine Minkiewicz and George Morin

According to John Monteverdi, a professor in the meteorology department at SF State, even though the five-year drought is still severe in many places throughout California, we don’t have to necessarily make up for all the months of rainfall that we haven’t received.

“We don’t have to make up for it all, but we do need at least a couple normal winters. There is a difference between a meteorological drought and and a water source drought. We are out of the meteorological drought. We got a lot of rain last March and April, but we still have to make up for the water source drought with a few consecutive years of normal rainfall,” Monteverdi said.

Despite the fact that we still need a few seasons of normal rainfall to help mitigate the statewide drought, according to Gurdak, the drought is less severe in certain areas of California.

“The drought may be less severe in some regions of California, like Northern California, maybe prompting some managers to lift certain water use restrictions, but much of California is still very much experiencing drought,” Gurdak said. “About 83 percent of California is still experiencing at least moderate drought conditions and 42 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions,” Gurdak said, citing statistics from the United States Drought Monitor.

Last year’s El Nino was expected to dump several inches of rain throughout California, yet the state did not get the amount of rain that was anticipated, according to Monteverdi.

“Typical El Nino ocean temperatures are warmer than normal in the eastern and tropical Pacific, but last year, there were warmer than normal ocean temperatures between Hawaii and San Francisco and forced the jetstream of rain into the Pacific Northwest,” Monteverdi explained. “Northern California and Southern California, especially Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, didn’t get much rain. Yet Oregon and Washington got a lot of rain; Portland had record rainfall in December. That should’ve been us,” Monteverdi said.

When asked if last weekend’s rain storm is a good sign for a wet winter, Monteverdi said there is often no correlation with having rain in October to predicting a good season of oncoming rainfall and that rainfall projections for winter are “up in the air.”

However, according to Monteverdi, San Francisco is predicted to receive another couple inches of rain in the next few weeks.

“The next storm is expected for next Monday or Tuesday, it won’t be as wet as the last storm, but we could get two inches of rain in the next few weeks or so,” Monteverdi said.

Even though the outlook for this winter’s rainfall doesn’t look too grim, Monteverdi and Liana Derus, president of the Environmentally Concerned Organization of Students, emphasized that it is still important to be mindful of water usage.

“The drought isn’t a hot topic anymore, but our planet is dying and we should still be scared. Taking 15-minute showers won’t do much (to help conserve water). Eighty percent of water is used in animal agriculture, so we can be mindful of water use at home, but we should be more mindful of what we eat,” said Derus, who is also an environmental studies major. “500 gallons of water go into one serving of beef. We should not be eating meat three times a day. Make a compromise.”

Other ways that students can help cut back on water usage include abstaining from watering lawns and making sure that showers don’t exceed half an hour, according to Monteverdi.

“I don’t think it is too worrisome where people should stop taking showers or flushing the toilet. Just be mindful and keep fingers crossed that these rain predictions for the next few weeks will be true,” Monteverdi said.