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Author Topic: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?  (Read 561 times)

bandit957

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What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« on: November 16, 2019, 05:26:34 PM »

How wet does it have to be for the media to not call it a drought?

We had record rainfall in June, and the rain really didn't let up much until October. And this is one of the rainiest areas of the country too. Yet somehow the media called it a drought. How?????

This exact same thing seems to happen almost every year, but this time, they said it even more, even though we had even more rain than usual.

I remember in 1988 they called it a drought, even though I went to an outdoor Bruce Hornsby & the Range concert that had record rainfall for that day. Something similar happened in 2007 when I went to a Colin Hay concert.

Someone from Arizona or inland California would laugh in our faces if they heard us calling that a drought.
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jeffandnicole

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2019, 05:49:17 PM »

A lot has to do with the reservoir and lake levels. If they were ultra low prior to June, they could still be low. Even though a lot of rain may have fallen in a 5 month period sometimes that's not always a great thing. The ground can only hold so much water at any one time, and an overly saturated ground tends to have water runoff, rather than filtering into the groundwater and getting into the reservoirs.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2019, 07:19:49 PM »

When I lived in Phoenix it wasn’t uncommon to hear people or newscasters say “we need the rain.”  I always found that statement amusing since nobody really seemed to grasp the concept that they were living in the Sonoran Desert and generally our water was at the behest of upstream diversions of the Salt River Project.  That said, I don’t recall really anyone outside of the Mogollon Rim region using the term “drought” all that much.  When you have events like the Wallow Fire burning most of the Ponderosa Pine on the Rim it got a lot of people talking about local drought conditions. 

In California almost all the wet weather comes in the winter months and can fluctuate wildly.  That said, I don’t recall a single year in almost two decades on the west coast where much of California wasn’t a tinder box come August.  The fires of recent years aren’t the new phenomena popular media makes them out to be and tend to be more of a trend of annual weather than a true drought.  The Santa Ana Winds pretty much always spread wildfire no matter what the source is; man made or natural. 

That’s said most of the complaints about drought are from areas like San Joaquin Valley which are agriculturally driven.  The irony is that San Joaquin Valley almost qualifies as a desert with most areas getting less than 13 annual inches of rain.  Most of the water comes from snow pack melt in the Sierras which can vary greatly year to year.  Amusingly there used to be a 600 square mile lake here known as Tulare Lake which wasn’t killed off by drought but by agricultural diversion and upstream flood control.  A look at a map of the Tulare Lake and San Joaquin River Watershed in the 1880s really illustrates how much of a forgotten man made ecological disaster San Joaquin Valley is.  I suspect nothing locally will quell the constant complaints of drought driven the agricultural interests. 

Using reservoirs as a drought gauge can be misleading.  The goal of a reservoir is usually to impound water for power, irrigation or a civic water supply.  Essentially a reservoir that is constantly full probably isn’t being used to it’s maximum capacity.  Some reservoirs are being drawn from much more than originally intended like Lake Mead and really aren’t fully driven by drought conditions. 
« Last Edit: November 16, 2019, 07:27:48 PM by Max Rockatansky »
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KEVIN_224

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2019, 08:32:40 PM »

How wet does it have to be for the media to not call it a drought?

We had record rainfall in June, and the rain really didn't let up much until October. And this is one of the rainiest areas of the country too. Yet somehow the media called it a drought. How?????

The UNL Drought Monitor shows greater Cincinnati and much of Connecticut to be in good shape.
https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
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Rothman

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2019, 10:31:32 AM »

Heh.  In Utah, they thank God for the "moisture." :D
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2019, 10:57:06 AM »

Heh.  In Utah, they thank God for the "moisture." :D

Interestingly the seasonal rain and snow melt is easily measured by how much water Great Salt Lake has.  In some years the waters even reach places like Wendover and cover the Bonneville Salt Flats in a mirror like shallow of water.  Took this back in May of 2015 when that was the case:

https://flic.kr/p/Sbup5n
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michravera

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2019, 12:00:21 PM »

How wet does it have to be for the media to not call it a drought?

We had record rainfall in June, and the rain really didn't let up much until October. And this is one of the rainiest areas of the country too. Yet somehow the media called it a drought. How?????

This exact same thing seems to happen almost every year, but this time, they said it even more, even though we had even more rain than usual.

I remember in 1988 they called it a drought, even though I went to an outdoor Bruce Hornsby & the Range concert that had record rainfall for that day. Something similar happened in 2007 when I went to a Colin Hay concert.

Someone from Arizona or inland California would laugh in our faces if they heard us calling that a drought.

A drought is a PROLONGED period WITHOUT ANY rainfall. So, a few summer months without rain, might reasonably be referred to as "a drought" in places accustomed to getting rain every few days. In California, we call "a few months in the summer without rain" simply "Summer". The Atacama desert gets rain only every couple hundred years.

Sometimes, it is reasonable to call it "a drought" when the rainfall is less than, say 60%, of normal. In California, Sacramento and San Jose get an average of about 400 l/m^2 (16") of rain per year, Bakersfield gets about 175 l/m^2 (7") per year. Mojave gets about 100 l/m^2. We call it a drought when we get only about half of that. It is unusual for us in the places in California that I named to get ANY rain from roughly Good Friday until Halloween. Every once in a while, we will get a "Mid-August Cold Snap" (which often occurs as late as September 30) and get a day or two with a trace of rain, but it doesn't always happen.
When we have what is called "a drought" here, it is because we have had only about 60% of average rainfall for two or three years. I remember back in 1985, we were going into our 4th or 5th year of drought when, just around Presidents' Day, we got two years worth (about one tonne per square meter) of rain in nine days. None of our infrastructure was remotely built for that. We had a levee or two collapse and it flooded two small towns (which would be "mid-sized cities" in other states) north of Sacramento. When I told my Florida friends about this THEY laughed. In Florida, the drain on your property has to be able to handle roughly a tonne per square meter in an hour! Nine days! Tsk Tsk!
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US 89

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2019, 12:01:11 PM »

Heh.  In Utah, they thank God for the "moisture." :D

Interestingly the seasonal rain and snow melt is easily measured by how much water Great Salt Lake has.  In some years the waters even reach places like Wendover and cover the Bonneville Salt Flats in a mirror like shallow of water.  Took this back in May of 2015 when that was the case:

https://flic.kr/p/Sbup5n

The water in the salt flats doesn’t connect directly with the main lake unless it rises above 4217 feet, which hasn’t happened since probably the 1700s. That said, the salt flats are a low-lying area in the west desert and they’re usually covered by shallow water for most of the winter and spring months, and how late it persists depends on how wet that winter/spring period was. Interesting there was still a good amount of water in 2015, which was one of northern Utah’s driest winters on record. I visited the flats in June 2019 (after a very wet winter and spring) and there was quite a bit of water out there.

The lake itself isn’t as good of an indicator because in recent years it hasn’t really recovered all that well from long-term droughts. The droughts in the early 2000s and early 2010s took a heavy toll on lake levels, and even as precipitation increased again afterwards the lake generally didn’t fully recover to pre-drought levels, which is mostly because we have a bunch of upstream reservoirs that need to fill first before anything is sent further down. Those reservoirs are probably a better drought gauge for the region.

It takes a special winter to give a major boost to lake levels - a big snowpack alone might not necessarily raise the lake more than average. To get that water down to the lake, you’d want a lot of the snow to melt at once, late in spring so that the reservoirs will be forced to dump more downstream. If you get a slow or early melt, you’ll still fill the reservoirs, but not as much will make its way to the lake.

Max Rockatansky

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2019, 12:08:24 PM »

Heh.  In Utah, they thank God for the "moisture." :D

Interestingly the seasonal rain and snow melt is easily measured by how much water Great Salt Lake has.  In some years the waters even reach places like Wendover and cover the Bonneville Salt Flats in a mirror like shallow of water.  Took this back in May of 2015 when that was the case:

https://flic.kr/p/Sbup5n

The water in the salt flats doesn’t connect directly with the main lake unless it rises above 4217 feet, which hasn’t happened since probably the 1700s. That said, the salt flats are a low-lying area in the west desert and they’re usually covered by shallow water for most of the winter and spring months, and how late it persists depends on how wet that winter/spring period was. Interesting there was still a good amount of water in 2015, which was one of northern Utah’s driest winters on record. I visited the flats in June 2019 (after a very wet winter and spring) and there was quite a bit of water out there.

The lake itself isn’t as good of an indicator because in recent years it hasn’t really recovered all that well from long-term droughts. The droughts in the early 2000s and early 2010s took a heavy toll on lake levels, and even as precipitation increased again afterwards the lake generally didn’t fully recover to pre-drought levels, which is mostly because we have a bunch of upstream reservoirs that need to fill first before anything is sent further down. Those reservoirs are probably a better drought gauge for the region.

It takes a special winter to give a major boost to lake levels - a big snowpack alone might not necessarily raise the lake more than average. To get that water down to the lake, you’d want a lot of the snow to melt at once, late in spring so that the reservoirs will be forced to dump more downstream. If you get a slow or early melt, you’ll still fill the reservoirs, but not as much will make its way to the lake.

I’ve always been curious having never really looked into the hydrology of the surrounding mountains near Salt Lake City, what are the bigger reservoirs out there?   I would imagine that the Wasatch Range would probably be where the bulk of them are located?  Interesting on that same trip I recall Antelope Island solidly being connected to the mainland due to the low lake levels...at least the Antelope Island Causeway was well above the salt line. 
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2019, 12:32:38 PM »

How wet does it have to be for the media to not call it a drought?

We had record rainfall in June, and the rain really didn't let up much until October. And this is one of the rainiest areas of the country too. Yet somehow the media called it a drought. How?????

This exact same thing seems to happen almost every year, but this time, they said it even more, even though we had even more rain than usual.

I remember in 1988 they called it a drought, even though I went to an outdoor Bruce Hornsby & the Range concert that had record rainfall for that day. Something similar happened in 2007 when I went to a Colin Hay concert.

Someone from Arizona or inland California would laugh in our faces if they heard us calling that a drought.

A drought is a PROLONGED period WITHOUT ANY rainfall. So, a few summer months without rain, might reasonably be referred to as "a drought" in places accustomed to getting rain every few days. In California, we call "a few months in the summer without rain" simply "Summer". The Atacama desert gets rain only every couple hundred years.

Sometimes, it is reasonable to call it "a drought" when the rainfall is less than, say 60%, of normal. In California, Sacramento and San Jose get an average of about 400 l/m^2 (16") of rain per year, Bakersfield gets about 175 l/m^2 (7") per year. Mojave gets about 100 l/m^2. We call it a drought when we get only about half of that. It is unusual for us in the places in California that I named to get ANY rain from roughly Good Friday until Halloween. Every once in a while, we will get a "Mid-August Cold Snap" (which often occurs as late as September 30) and get a day or two with a trace of rain, but it doesn't always happen.
When we have what is called "a drought" here, it is because we have had only about 60% of average rainfall for two or three years. I remember back in 1985, we were going into our 4th or 5th year of drought when, just around Presidents' Day, we got two years worth (about one tonne per square meter) of rain in nine days. None of our infrastructure was remotely built for that. We had a levee or two collapse and it flooded two small towns (which would be "mid-sized cities" in other states) north of Sacramento. When I told my Florida friends about this THEY laughed. In Florida, the drain on your property has to be able to handle roughly a tonne per square meter in an hour! Nine days! Tsk Tsk!

After the winter of 2017 a lot of people were trying to draw comparisons to the floods of the 1860s which essentially briefly reformed a shallow Lake Corcoran.  It probably wasn’t helped that Lake Oroville’s main spillway eroded and the emergency spillway threatened to collapse after that winter.  Even SB1 road repairs were largely driven through the legislative process off the fact that a large part of the state suddenly came out of drought status and it took a toll on the infrastructure.  If I recall correctly I believe parts of the Big Sur Area were far over the typically wet season norms by a large margin which led to landslides like Mud Creek and Pfeiffer Canyon. 

Interestingly a lot of the lower river watersheds still show the affects of the 2017 winter.  The lower Kings River in Kings County still has water (Mostly from releases from Pine Flat Dam) in it and is only now starting to dry out again. There was even Tule Fog present this morning when I drove over it on CA 198 westbound this morning.

This year has been a slow start to the wet season.  Supposedly the first major wet day of the fall is coming on Wednesday.  I say “real” but at least check the forecast only called for 0.10 inches of rain in Fresno.  Even Yosemite Valley is forecasted to only get a light snow.  I suspect that this is going to be a dry winter, although things can take a sudden winter turn like they did last year. 

Speaking of levees in Florida what they have around Lake Okeechobee and parts of the Everglades absolutely dwarves anything in California.  The levee system around Okeechobee almost surrounds the entire Lake which is understandable after how many people died from hurricane borne floods in the 1920s. 
« Last Edit: November 17, 2019, 12:35:53 PM by Max Rockatansky »
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US 89

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2019, 12:43:59 PM »

I’ve always been curious having never really looked into the hydrology of the surrounding mountains near Salt Lake City, what are the bigger reservoirs out there?   I would imagine that the Wasatch Range would probably be where the bulk of them are located?  Interesting on that same trip I recall Antelope Island solidly being connected to the mainland due to the low lake levels...at least the Antelope Island Causeway was well above the salt line.

With a couple exceptions, the reservoirs tend to be located east of the main Wasatch crest, and most of them are along larger rivers like the Weber, Provo, and Ogden. The bigger ones include lakes like Pineview, Jordanelle, and Strawberry Reservoir - Strawberry is unique because it's actually in the Colorado River watershed, but there is a tunnel that diverts some of its water under the Great Basin Divide into Great Salt Lake drainage.

As for Antelope Island: it has been connected to the mainland ever since 2001, though it came close to becoming an island again in 2012. The eastern half of the causeway is pretty much dry these days, but the western third still has water on both sides.

Scott5114

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2019, 02:21:14 PM »

To answer the question of the thread:



For it to not be called a drought, it has to fall in category D0 or better. D1 and above are drought conditions.
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hbelkins

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Re: What does it take for it to not be called a drought?
« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2019, 04:49:06 PM »

My part of Kentucky was considered to be in a drought in the late summer/early fall despite having being over the average rainfall for the year, due to all the rain we had back in the winter.
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