Most of California is in recovery mode after a years-long drought plagued the Golden State from 2020 until 2022, which depleted the state’s reservoirs and groundwater resources.
However, with the summer season in full swing, temperatures across the state have begun to increase and the hotter weather brings renewed potential drought concerns for many across the state.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that most U.S. states are leaning toward a hotter-than-average summer. In California, higher-than-normal temperatures are expected, particularly in the northern part of the state.
Unlike the five-day forecast, experts can’t accurately predict when the next drought will hit the Golden State, mainly due to research limitations, according to Jeanine Jones, the interstate resources manager at the California Department of Water Resources.
“The ability of the science community and NOAA, which predicts the weather, simply isn’t good enough to answer it at this point of time because they haven’t really invested in the research to get there,” Jones said.
Predicting a drought, in part, depends on the ability to forecast precipitation and temperature within the context of complex climate interactions, according to Drought.gov.
Subseasonal to seasonal forecasts, which go beyond the short-term weather outlooks, aren’t as reliable for predicting specific precipitation amounts, a factor that is needed for drought predictions, according to S2SForecasting.org
These models typically look at the probability that precipitation will be above or below average but not specifics.
Historically low funding from the federal government has also hindered the ability to improve these models.
Prior to the wet winter season, weather experts predicted that California would have a dry winter, using a variation of the S2S forecast model.
Even though experts don’t know when California’s next drought will occur, the state is still feeling the effects of the last one.
Groundwater resources haven’t completely recovered from the drought, unlike the state’s reservoirs, some of which are near capacity levels, thanks to the wet winter season.
Jones explained that water sources closer to the surface or in close contact with rivers or streams can recharge within a year, while other resources, further from the surface, can take years to recharge.
“Frankly, California has depleted its groundwater so much in recent droughts that a lot of that loss simply isn’t recoverable,” Jones said.
Officials won’t know how much the wet winter season helped groundwater resources until next year since groundwater data isn’t collected frequently, according to Jones.
The chances of another drought in California may not materialize for a while, according to NOAA, which announced that the arrival of El Nino could signal another wet winter season for the region, but the famously unpredictable pattern could surprise us again this winter.