Weather Watch

Season of record drought and heat ends; what's next?

Special to The TribuneJune 21, 2014 

Trish Lindsey walking down the Valencia Peak Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park.

JOHN LINDSEY

My family and I hiked to Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro State Park last week. Three consecutive years of drought has taken its toll.

The poison oak leaves have already turned to hues of orange and red. Portions of the trail were covered with thick dust resembling talcum powder that rose with each step we took.

I kept thinking to myself, it’s only June. Even though summer began Saturday as the sun reached its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere sky, the warmest months in San Luis Obispo won’t occur until August and September. You see, our atmosphere is a lot like an aircraft carrier; it takes a lot of energy and time to change its course.

Not only has it been record-breaking dry, but 2014 is on track be the warmest year in history not only along the Central Coast, but for most of California, according to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records, which stretch back well over 100 years.

So far, 2014 has seen 10 daily high temperature records broken at the Paso Robles Municipal Airport and 13 at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Even more revealing, there weren’t any low temperature records reported in the county. None!

As the state heads toward fall, the latest forecast from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is “above normal temperatures” for all of California through September and worsening drought conditions.

The drought monitor map, issued by the National Drought Mitigation Center, indicates “exceptional drought,” the worst category, not only stretches from the Golden Gate southward toward Ventura County, encompassing Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties but has also now spread into Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen and Plumas counties in Northern California.

With just nine days left until the end of the 2013-2014 California rain season, Paso Robles will break its record for least seasonal rainfall. So far, only 3.34 inches have been recorded in Paso Robles, breaking the 2007-2008 record of 4.2 inches.

The tipping bucket rain gauge at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant has recorded only 5.76 inches of precipitation, smashing the previous record of 7.89 inches set in the 1989-1990 season.

Cal Poly has recorded 10.61 inches this rain season, whereas it normally records over 22 inches.

So why has it been so dry? A large-scale, high-pressure ridge has continued to dominate our weather. This condition hasn’t allowed the normal wintertime storm systems to progress southward into California.

There’s a possibility that climate change may be contributing to this weather pattern.

So what does this rain season look like?

Using computer modeling, the Climate Prediction Center in the last two weeks backed down slightly on the strength of this winter’s potential El Niño. Historically, weak to moderate El Niño events produce slightly below normal precipitation.

However, the actual Sea Surface Temperatures in a region of the equatorial Pacific that scientists use to classify El Niño strength has risen much faster than the models predicted. The rising temperatures could indicate a stronger El Nino — and strong El Niño events tend to produce about 140 percent of normal rainfall.

Still, keep in mind that historical data doesn’t guarantee future drought-busting rainfall with El Niño.

Tribune reporter David Sneed has written eloquently about the potentially dire consequences if the drought continues another year. It’s not a pretty picture. Let us hope and pray that 2014-2015 rainfall season will be very different than the last three we’ve experienced.

**

With summer here, PG&E offers these important safety tips:

•Drive Safely — Wires installed on utility poles carry electricity and, when wires are down, electricity can still flow through them. Be well rested and alert when driving. Make sure passengers are buckled up before you start the car. Observe speed limits, follow the rules of the road. If you plan on drinking alcohol, appoint a designated driver who will not drink.

•Cook Safely — Always grill in the open, away from overhead power lines, buildings, decks and low tree branches. To keep flames under control, never add charcoal starter fluid if the coals have already been ignited. Keep a fireproof pan under your grill to catch falling ash or grease. You can also trim excess fat from meat to avoid flare-ups, and always be ready to close the lid and turn off the grill in case of an emergency.

•Stay Cool — When temperatures are unusually high, avoid strenuous activities in hot, direct sunlight and drink plenty of water. Pay attention to your body. Muscle cramps, dizziness and nausea may be signs of a heat-related illness.

 

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and a longtime local meteorologist. He is president of the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com. Follow him at twitter.com/ pge_john.

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