Sunday, April 03, 2016

The New Normal

The calendar says our rainy season is just about over, but the weather says it's been over for at least a week.  After all the El Nino hype and the weeks when the storms came one after another, this winter averaged out to be...average.

January and March were about 50% above normal each.  But February was dry, and December was only moist.  The lines of storms in March replenished many of the major reservoirs, and the Sierras got snow.  But when they measured the Sierras snowpack, it turned out to be average, or a little below.

Average is of course a vast improvement over last year, or the past several years.  That all this wasn't enough to bust the drought isn't too surprising.  But it brings up some uneasy questions.

For instance: if it took a very strong El Nino to bring us average rainfall, what's going to be "average" in the future?  We tend to associate "average" with "normal."  Both might denote a range of what's normal for our climate.  But what's next year going to be like, without an El Nino, and perhaps with the opposite?

"Average" has already changed, as each year's rainfall, or lack of it, gets added into the statistics from which an average is taken.  The nagging thought is that the new normal is going to be dry compared to what it used to be, and maybe too dry for this environment to remain the same.

In the long run, the North Coast was going to suffer the consequences of sea level rise, as much or more than other places.  (They say our sea level rise is already the highest in California.)  But in terms of climate, the foggy coast and other factors were said to protect the North Coast from extreme temperatures.  I'm not sure where rainfall fits into that.  But some say even the fog is declining, and therefore the redwoods and the ecosystem in general is vulnerable.  We're not getting a pass from global heating or the climate crisis.

And according to future averages, this past winter may turn out to have been a rainy one after all.

But a glance at the google news page (from New York: "Forecast: Extreme Weather on the Way," "UK Weather: Britain To Be Hotter Than Ibizza as temperature soar," Washington "Weather Alert: Extreme Winds, Cold Temps," "Severe Storms Spawn at least 20 Tornadoes From Plains to South")  reaffirms we are still blessed.

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