AUSTIN (KXAN) – California has experienced an ongoing series of storms caused by the formation of an atmospheric river. Rain fell across most of the state, while the Sierra Nevada mountains received more than 10 feet of snow in some areas.
Prior to this series of storms, California struggled to get even a drop of rain. Extended years of dry conditions led to a mega-drought, with lake and reservoir levels reaching critically low levels.
Meteorologist Sean Kelly spoke with Associate Professor Geeta Persad of the University of Texas Department of Geological Sciences to discuss how it is possible that California is still in a drought despite weeks of heavy rain and what it will take to get them out of the drought.
Below is a transcript of their conversation:
Sean Kelly, KXAN News: I know that several feet of rain fell in some parts of California. Is this enough to get them out of the drought?
Associate Professor Gita Persad, University of Texas: So one of the really good things that we’ve seen with this set of atmospheric river events is that they brought a lot of water to California, that they helped create the state’s snow cover. And for a place like California where it rains, the water is really choppy. Therefore, they receive a lot of precipitation in winter. And then they really should use it during the summer. And so you need things like snow cover, which basically create inertia in your system, they act as a kind of natural storage system. And so the fact that these systems have a lot of snow, a lot of snow cover, will be very useful in the future.
But the reality is that over the past decade, California has indeed accumulated debt when it comes to water use. So, if you think about the bank account, all of this water in California was stored in its underground aquifers. And when the drought dragged on for the last decade or so, they started, you know, drawing water out of that bag of groundwater that they had. And over time, they mostly went into the red because of their underground aquifers. And so now that other form of natural storage that they had is really very much depleted. So it will take a long time to restore it. And the storms that we’re seeing right now, most of that water is escaping into the ocean rather than into aquifers because of how extreme these rains are and how intense they are. So we’re not really looking, we’re looking at a situation that is certainly beneficial in the short term, at least in terms of snow cover, but it’s actually not going to be enough because of the form it’s taking. , you know, bring California back from the reds.
Kelly: Tell me a little about flash floods and how this water really can’t be used because it can be a little dirty.
Persad: So when it rains very heavily and there are flash floods, some of the damage that we have seen, some of the loss of life due to landslides, these are all issues that start to arise. So even if it were beneficial for the use of water, we would have all these other disadvantages, which means it’s really not optimal when we get our water in that form. Now when we think about using, say, storm water to collect storm water and reuse it, it’s really problematic when that water is polluted and full of debris it picks up along the way. because it happened very intensively. So in most places, when there is storm water, there are really intense flash floods. In fact, they cannot store it and reuse it for these purposes.
Kelly: Tell us how these atmospheric rivers can be too good?
Persad: So the problem right now is that what we’re basically seeing is that these atmospheric river events are sort of pointing a fire hose at this bath. So, you have reservoirs, you have underground aquifers, but they are not designed to store water of this volume and at this rate. So what we’re seeing is that most of this water is splashing over the edges of this notorious tub. Right? So it flows into the ocean. And that means it won’t be available when people need it during the summer months when California is hot and dry.
Kelly: What does it take to get them out of this drought, this mega-drought they’re in? Will it be rain years? Will it be more spaced rain events.
Persad: One of the things we know about climate change is that the intensity of this rainfall is likely to increase in the future. And we also know that the precipitation that falls in California will be less and less in the form of that snow that is so useful for creating a natural reservoir of snow cover, and more and more in the form of these rains that just flood everything and flow. into the ocean. And that actually means that California needs to become more strategic about how it uses stormwater to recharge groundwater, more strategic about when and where water is being used. Because these situations, these conditions will only continue and intensify in the future.