Tuesday, January 17, 2017

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Monday and Tuesday were rare dry days in California, at least compared to the past month. The recent series of storms with heavy rain and mountain snows wiped out the drought across northern California, but left the southern half of the state relatively untouched. The improvement in the drought situation in the past year is remarkable, though most of this improvement occurred relatively recently. While the storms the occurred the past two weeks were welcome, they also brought too much of a good thing.

The Drought Monitor for California for January 12, 2016 (left), and January 10, 2017 (right).

Even with the drastic improvement in the drought situation, approximately 13 million California residents are still affected by severe to extreme drought. Much of the agricultural Central Valley is still in extreme drought. Over a thousand wells are dry. There may be some improvement in the southern half of the state over the next week as a series of storms slam into the west coast, but drought may not be what residents will have on their mind.

While the rain and snow in the northern half of the state were beneficial in many ways, it also brought its share of misery and damage. The frequent and torrential rains quickly overran the ability of rivers and streams to carry the water within their banks. Flooding and flash flooding was widespread. Runoff rapidly filled reservoirs that were on their last legs to the point that many had to open floodgates to let the excess water out. Heavy rain over southern California the next seven days will likely result some flooding and the threat of landslides. To be sure, central and southern California need the rain, but not all at once. For there to be real relief from the drought impacts the water needs time to seep into the ground to recharge groundwater, a long, slow process. In these heavy rain situations far more water runs off into rivers, stream, and storm drains than soaks into the ground.

Rainfall totals for the past 30 days have been impressive, with totals in the northern half of the state ranging from 12 to 31 inches, with most of that coming in the past two weeks. Snow in the Sierras was equally if not more impressive. The CoCoRaHS observer at CA-PC-1, Soda Springs measured a total of 202 inches of snow since December 18 (that's 16.8 feet)!

Daily snowfall for the CoCoRaHS station CA-PC-1, Soda Springs, CA for the last 30 days.

The snow was so heavy and intense that a number of ski resorts had to close because of road closures and the sheer amount of snow. Heavy, wet snow brought down trees and powerlines.  With many northern reservoirs now full, snow is more important. The Sierra snowpack supplies about one third of California's water supply. It's the snow piling up in the winter and then slowly melting through the spring and summer that keeps water flowing.

Snow water equivalent in the Sierra range is 164 percent of average as of January 13, ranging from 132 percent of average in the Northern Sierra, 162 percent of average in the Central Sierra, and 197 percent of average in the Southern Sierra. An important statistic is the percent of the April 1 snow water equivalent average. The snow that remains as of April 1 is the snow that melts during the warm season to supply water to California. As of January 13 the percent of April 1 average was near to above the record.

The precipitation outlook for the next seven days is both good and ominous for California. A series of storms now strung out over the Pacific will make landfall in the next week, The outlook is good in that much needed rainfall should reach central and southern California this time around. In northern California, more heavy rain over swollen rivers, full reservoirs, and saturated ground will likely cause another difficult period for northern California residents.

Even with the rain so far and more expected, it will not necessarily mean the end of drought worries in California. There is still the rest of the winter and spring to get through, and the challenge will be managing the water that has fallen so far, and that yet to come.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Nine Habits of Highly Effective CoCoRaHS Observers

Resolutions for self-improvement usually accompany the start of the New Year. I'm not typically one for resolutions but I'm going to give it a try this time around. It's been about 3 months since my last blog post and I won't bore you with the reasons/excuses of why it's been so long. It's a new year and I am going to try and get back on track. So, if there are topics you would like to me write about or revisit again let me know - ideas are always welcome.

Now to the topic for this blog post. A few months ago I was thinking about what characteristics make an effective CoCoRaHS rainfall observer and jotted down a list. I recalled seeing the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" published in 1989 by Stephen Covey, and that inspired the title of this post.

So, here's what I've come up with for the nine habits of highly effective CoCoRaHS observers.

Report every day

One of the attributes of a good climate record is consistent, regular observations. Consistent observations over a period of time help identify patterns and trends. Precipitation varies a lot in time and space, so regular observations are needed to capture these variations. Effective observers realize this and make an effort to have a report for each day. It usually is a daily report, but sometimes is an amount that spans two or more days (a multi-day report).  The bottom line is that at the end of the month or end of the year, each day is accounted for by an observation.

Report zeros

This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Effective observers know that zero is a number and a measurement. Zero is NOT equivalent to no measurement. A missing measurement does not mean "it did not rain". It's just missing. Effective observers also report zero for snowfall and snow depth when there is no snow or no snow on the ground, even when it's too warm for snow.

Make sure to have the correct observation time

Effective observers make sure to enter the correct observation time if it is different from the default time on the entry form. Sometimes life gets in the way and we can't always make our observation when we need to. The correct observation time helps those using the precipitation data to interpret it correctly.

Check submissions AFTER hitting the Submit button

Effective observers almost always remember to check their observation after they have submitted it on the CoCoRaHS web site. They easily do that by scrolling down the page past the Message of the Day to view their observation. They quickly catch the typos (for example, entering 10.00 instead of 0.10) and make what they entered is what they intended.

Keep a local record of observations

Even the most conscientious observer can get sidetracked and forget to enter the observation on any given day. Effective observers keep a separate written record of their observations for a period of time as a backup "just in case". They also realize that they may be contacted by their local coordinator or the CoCoRaHS staff about a past observation if an error is suspected or an observation needs to be verified. A written record can help answer those questions.

Review observations at the end of the month

Effective observers check their observations at the end of the month to be sure that all days are accounted for and there are no obvious errors. This is where that written record can save the day.

Periodically review the training materials

Everyone can use a refresher from time to time. It helps to review certain topics, like snow measurement and reporting prior to the winter season. Effective observers review the training animations and other training information on the web site from time to time as needed.

Follow correct procedures

Effective CoCoRaHS observers use the 4-inch standard rain gauge, make their observation at about the same time each day, and submit their observations using the correct form (Daily Report for daily observations, Multi-Day Report for multi-day accumulations). They know when and how to submit a Significant Weather Report or Hail Report.

Enjoy what they do

CoCoRaHS observers are typically highly motivated and enjoy what they do. They realize that many users count on the observations they make and report every day. They are dedicated and enthusiastic. Many recruit family and friends to join and/or help, and strive to never miss an observation.

Happy New year, everyone!