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NOAA Northwestern U.S. Bomb Cyclone – January 4, 2023
Source: NOAA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of our Christmas Day preparations, local meteorologists warned that a severe winter storm brewing over the Pacific Ocean was headed towards the U.S. West Coast. They described it as a densely saturated atmospheric river. Thanks to advanced technological methods for studying our atmosphere, we now know that the atmosphere can hold an entire river of water vapor. These rivers in the sky are about 250 to 375 miles wide and can be more than 1,000 miles long. That is an awful lot of water vapor. Californians living in high-risk zones for flooding and mudslides were put on high alert.

After seven months of mandated water rationing, due to California’s three-year drought conditions, I was elated about the news. My water-deprived plants would be happy. But the Sky God can be merciless or overzealous when answering our prayers for rain. Beginning on December 27, 2022, California was hit by wave after wave of intense storms that dumped more water than our outdated water infrastructure could handle. In the first week of the New Year, I braced myself for what the meteorologists described as a “bomb cyclone,” as shown in the captioned photo, captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

On January 4, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency throughout the state.

“California is mobilizing to keep people safe from the impacts of the incoming storm,” said Governor Newsom. “This state of emergency will allow the state to respond quickly as the storm develops and support local officials in their ongoing response.”

With massive devastation across the state caused by widespread flooding, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in 17 California counties on January 9. The City of Los Angeles was spared from the major blast. What a relief!

With all the water and snow that the Sky God has sent our way, you would think that our three-year drought is finally over. Not so.

“We’re still in drought,” said climate scientist Katerina Gonzales, during a discussion with Scientific American published on January 11, 2023. “The snowpack and reservoirs are good, so for surface storage, we’re doing great. But the aquifers are still depleted. The groundwater has to be recharged, and that takes a long time. We can’t rely on atmospheric rivers to save us. California has wet and dry extremes—that’s our current reality and our future. We should prepare.”

We have not received any new directives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) regarding a reduction on the 35 percent water use restrictions put in place last June. Still, there was some good news from Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. In a Press Release on January 26, 2023, he announced an increase of the State Water Project (SWP) allocation to 30 percent, up from the initial 5 percent announced on December 1.

“After the three driest years the state has seen, we are finally getting some relief,” said Adel Hagekhalil. “Depleted state reservoirs are starting to recover from record lows, and this increased allocation will certainly help communities hit hardest by this drought recover as well. But make no mistake, while the recent storms will help alleviate the acute emergency in areas dependent on supplies from the State Water Project, Southern California’s water challenges are far from over.”

The State Water Project’s two largest reservoirs, Oroville and San Luis, have gained a combined 1.62 million acre-feet of water in storage—roughly enough to provide water to 5.6 million households for a year. This is good news.

U.S. Drought Monitor – California – January 31, 2023
Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

The best news of all is evident in the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, released on February 2, 2023. What a difference from drought conditions on May 31, 2022! Gone are the areas in purple (exceptional drought) and red (extreme drought). Areas of severe drought (yellow ochre) have also considerably diminished, leaving most of California under “moderate drought” to “abnormally dry.”

I give thanks to the Sky God for this respite.