By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun
Last year, the Kern River Valley rang in the New Year with a beautiful blanket of snow, something that hadn’t been seen in quite some time. The wet weather continued for most of January with decent downpours of rain, so much so there were flooding issues reported on all sides of the lake.
This year, while the rest of the country is freezing over, we have beautiful clear skies and comfortably warm weather, with temperatures 10 to 12 degrees above normal.
Up until this past week, all of Kern County, along with most of California, has had a dismal amount of rainfall since the official “rainy” season started in October. This fact is worrisome not only because of snowpack and water levels, but the abnormally dry conditions have made this last year the worst fire season in California’s history.
Extremely dry conditions due to low humidity, and coupled with high winds, played a big part in why the fires of 2017 were so destructive. In the north, the Tubbs Fire ravaged wine country, incinerating more than 5,100 structures and nearly 40,000 acres, while the Thomas Fire has burnt through both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, becoming California’s largest wildfire on record.
On more than one occasion, Kern County was issued a “Red Flag Warning,” which is given when an area has prolonged minimum or relatively low humidity levels resulting in extremely dry fuels. This can create critical fire conditions, where any fire that develops would likely spread rapidly, making it difficult to get under control. Though no fire got to the magnitude that was the Erskine or Cedar Fires from the 2016 fire season, the Kern River Valley did lose nine homes in the Calgary Fire in Wofford Heights, not to mention the handful of other structures and acres that burned in the last few month. Luckily, those battling the flames have been able to keep damage contained and to a minimum, even when conditions are in favor of the blaze.
After completing a recent survey of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, officials with the Department of Water Resources said that even though the snowpack is only at 25 percent of its normal level, not to panic, just yet, as it is still early in the season. Officials also said that even though California has had an abnormally dry winter, we are in much better shape than we were before. Record rainfall from last year’s series of “atmospheric river” storms helped alleviate the state’s five-year drought and when the clouds parted, California’s northern Sierra Nevada experienced the wettest winter on record, allowing reservoirs to remain at acceptable levels.
California’s water years can be extremely difficult to predict because we depend greatly on heavy storms to bring in most of the water we need. With just a few of these storms, the state’s reservoirs can be filled, the Sierra Nevada mountains can be covered with snow and most often makes the difference between a dry winter and a wet one.
One of the factors for California’s dry winter this year has been due to the presence of a La Niña weather pattern, particularly in the southern half of the state, which cause cooler ocean temperatures that make for dryer winters. In November of last year, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration warned that long-term forecasts are pointing to a La Niña pattern this coming season that will likely bring “below-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States.”
If this dry spell continues, forecasters say we could see low snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada come spring, which could spell “bad news” for water levels in the Kern River, and all around California, as we depend heavily on that source of water during the dry summer months.
But on the bright side, it has been raining the last couple of days, and we still have an entire winter and spring to go. The weather still has time to change its mind.