I heard the oddest comment the other day. I was talking to a man who had moved here from New York 2 years ago. He had no idea that we ever had anything but sunny, warm winters. “It rains here?” he said. I’m not sure how he thought plants and trees stayed alive with no rain ever, but it was a fair question. After years of drought, many long-time natives were asking, “Will it ever rain here again?” How refreshing to finally have a rainy winter!
If you are new to California or just want to see how we’ve been measuring up this year, visit the California Climate Station Precipitation Summary webpage hosted by the National Weather Service and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). For every major city in California and a few in Nevada and Arizona, data is collected daily and compared with a “normal” rainfall year (normal are 1981-2010 averages). Below is a screenshot from April, 2016:
(climate station precipitation summary screenshot)
For the City of San Francisco, although no rain fell on April 4th, the total rainfall between October 1, 2015 and April 4th, 2016 was 21.45 inches, putting us at 101% of normal, or where we should be for this time year. (Note how much less it rained at SFO). Don’t get too excited – if you follow the line over to the last column, you’ll see that normal rainfall between October 1 and September 30 is 23.65 inches, so if it doesn’t rain again until October 1, 2016, we will be below normal – about like we were last year. In the 4th column from the left, you can see that last year we received about 21 inches of rain, only 75% of normal. So we would need about 2.25 more inches of rain this year to be at 100%. If El Nino continues, there’s a good chance it will happen.
Rain isn’t the only thing California needs. We also need snow. The Sierra snowpack is our water bank account, keeping water stored until it slowly melts into streams and rivers to fill reservoirs and aquifers. Rain here may fill some tanks and reservoirs and replenish water tables, but a lot of the water goes out to sea. Although the Sierra snowpack was at 97% of its historical average this year (compared with 87% in 2015), climate change means warmer winters and increased chance of not getting enough snow. Californians are going to have to get more creative about storing rain on a large scale.
Although the big picture is uncertain, the present moment is good… let’s take an opportunity to enjoy the effects of rain on our garden, especially the parched corner of 20th and Florida!
(Bright green new growth on Strawberry Trees in front of Central Kitchen)
(Stressed street trees greening up – corner 20th and Florida)
(Wall-to-wall green in front of Central Kitchen)
(Bunny Tails grass coming back from the “dead” on Florida Street)
Ellyn Shea is a gardener and consultant in San Francisco. Visit her at http://www.garden-guidance.com