Even After All That Rain, S.F. Barely Broke Even for the Winter

Downtown received 23.79 inches of rain as of April 30, which is less than a quarter-inch above the seasonal average.

It’s May 1, which means that even though there’s a system in the Pacific brewing at the moment, most of California is statistically unlikely to get much more rain until the fall. And what a rainy winter, right?

Not really.

Technically, the water year runs from Oct. 1-Sept. 30, which can skew the figures a bit. But as of April 30, Downtown San Francisco had received 23.78 inches of rain since July 1, 2018 — which represents 104 percent of the usual 22.79 inches we typically receive during that time period and 101 percent of the 23.65 inches the city typically receives during the wet season.

Put another way, if it doesn’t rain another drop for the rest of this “winter,” we got exactly 0.13 inches more than an ordinary season, putting 2018-19 at almost exactly the historical average. It feels like we got a lot of rain, because compared with the year before, we did. 2017-18 only saw 17.5 inches, or 74 percent of average, with most of the state similarly below normal.

Downtown is not an atypical monitoring station, either. SFO is at 103 percent of the season normal, and Oakland Airport at 91 percent. It was rainier up north, with Santa Rosa receiving a hearty 43 inches, or 120 percent of normal precipitation for the winter.

Weirdly, the driest part of the state is its rainiest and coolest region. Crescent City, in rural, conservative Del Norte County in the state’s extreme northwest where the temperature almost never breaks 70, usually sees an impressive 64 inches of rain per year — but so far, they’re only at 52 inches, or 82 percent of normal. Meanwhile, the comparatively arid town of Bishop in the Owens Valley on the other hand, usually gets but five inches of rain owing to the Sierras’ rain shadow, but it saw nine inches. (Most of that water goes straight to Los Angeles, anyway.) 

Yes, the Sierras got pounded with snow, and the skiing season should last through May 27 at Heavenly and into early July at Squaw Alpine. If you think of every snowflake as a precious gift that helps California survive for another nanosecond, this is wonderful, although it may become an anomaly in the not-too-distant future.

Better still, California is now entirely drought-free, with only the southernmost section of the state categorized as “abnormally dry.” But as we transition from the rainy season to fire season — which, arguably, lasts all year long nowadays — we should take nothing for granted and remain in a conservation mindset, for who knows what the future holds? The patterns seem destabilized and erratic. Certainly, 2018-19 was nothing like 2016-17, when S.F. got 32 inches, Crescent City got 95 inches, and the Oroville Dam’s main spillway collapsed. In the meantime, there are still millions of dead trees ready to burn statewide. Hopefully, a combination of preparedness, full reservoirs, and luck will spare us the terrifying consequences of a few severely dry years.

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