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Are we close to getting out of the drought?

Flickr user Daniel Hoherd under CC license. Resized/cropped.


Any day now, The California State Water Resources Control Board will vote on whether to extend Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory restrictions on water use.

Since June, the water restrictions have required urban residents to cut their consumption by 25% statewide. They were set to expire this month, but Governor Brown called on the board to extend them if drought conditions continued through January. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the state is still experiencing drought that’s moderate to extreme.

“I think what's happened is that over the last four years we've had relatively dry weather, it's led to this historic drought and people have kind of forgotten what a typical winter is like through the Bay Area,” says Charles Bell from the National Weather Service.

Bell says a typical winter in San Francisco would see about 13 inches of rain by this time of year – and that’s right about where the city is at. So technically, this is normal.

For it to be a good, wet year, though, Bell says the city would need to see 23 inches of rain by summertime, “when of course the rain pretty much shuts off.”

Bell says so far the forecast is looking good.

“We certainly are hoping and our fingers are crossed it will hit at least that 10-inch mark,” and maybe higher, he says.

Which leaves many wondering – if we do get all that rain Bell says is on its way, is it enough to get us out of the drought?

“We're still running a pretty big deficit,” says Bell.

All of the state’s major reservoirs are still well below the levels they’re usually at this time of year. Up in the mountains, though, snowpack is above average.

Bell says the next two months will be critical. “Will we continue to get a lot of the snowfall, will we continue to get more rain throughout the Bay Area?” he asks. “ If that happens it certainly will put a dent in the drought.”

This forecast doesn’t mean we should stop conserving. In fact, you can’t – as of this writing, those restrictions are still in place.

But even if things improve, Bell says, “Just because we have one year that we get a fairly good rebound doesn't mean that next year will be the same.”

You might say we don’t know what a typical winter is anymore.