When Will the Rain End? Southern California Sees Above-Average Rainfall for the First Time in Years

csuf-rain.jpgTitan weather forecast: Sunday was one of the wettest days of the decade in many parts of Southern California and it appears that Monday will follow suit, though Wednesday and beyond look dry. But don’t put away your umbrellas yet, Titans. There are still several months left before the typically drier spring and summer, with February averaging as the wettest month. Be careful on the roads this week and plan to arrive on campus well before your classes start so you can find a parking spot.

For millions of Californians, last winter was a letdown, as the strongest El Niño on record failed to deliver much-anticipated heavy rain to the Golden State. But this year, despite a weak La Niña that often brings below-average rainfall, the state has been awash with storm after storm. For the first time since 2010, Southern California has recorded a rainy season with above-average totals in many spots, including Downtown Los Angeles, the most often-cited location for assessing the Southland’s rain totals. Long Beach even recorded its wettest day ever on Sunday. With nearly three months remaining before the drier spring and summer arrives, there is reason for optimism that the season may make up for much of the rainfall deficit that has built up since the start of the decade.

Why it’s Raining

Most heavy rainfall in Southern California occurs as a result of atmospheric river events – when the jet stream, which powers weather patterns, sets up over the area and brings round after round of moisture-rich storms from the tropical Pacific. Over the past five years, such conditions did not occur due to a large ridge of high atmospheric pressure over the western U.S., which steered any needed rainfall to the north.

Since December, the ridge of high pressure has been largely absent, while a combination of storms from the tropical Pacific and weather systems from further north have converged on the state, not only bringing rain, but also heavy snow to the mountains.

Forecasters are expecting drier conditions for late January and early February and since La Niña conditions, which occur when the tropical Pacific is cooler than average, are not usually associated with heavy rain in California, it is anyone’s guess if heavy storms will resume for the rest of the season. But even if precipitation is below-average during the traditionally wet months of February and March, the region has seen enough precipitation to secure at least a slightly above-average season in most spots.

The Economic Impact

California’s economy has continued to grow despite the record-breaking drought, but the dry spell has had a number of repercussions on the state’s industries. Agriculture has been hard-hit, with losses of up to $1.5 billion projected for 2016 alone. This year, rainfall has eased drought conditions over the fertile Central Valley, which will likely lead to the best crop season in months.

Even tourism could stand to benefit. While some rainy winter days can put a damper on a trip to Disneyland or the Southern California beaches, the wetter weather will translate to a beautiful spring and summer, encouraging visitation to the state’s national parks and other scenic areas that suffered during the drought.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The drought may be over by the layperson’s definition, but that doesn’t mean that water conservation is no longer necessary. Nor does it mean that the dry spell won’t soon return.

Many scientists note that Southern California’s drought actually began in 2006. Over the past decade, only one year – 2010 – had above-average rainfall, an outlier in the midst of a dry time. The same could be true of this year, as there is no guarantee that following winters will bring heavy rain and snow.

There is currently interest in the possibility that El Niño may return later this year. While historically viewed as a harbinger of a wet winter, the most recent event reveals that promising El Niños can turn out to be a dud.

In the meantime, we can enjoy the green hillsides in the distance and the beautiful flowers that spring will bring to campus this year, thanks to the wet pattern. Want to make a day or weekend trip out of wildflowers? Check out this calendar of when the peak bloom times are in different parts of Southern California.

For More Information

For the latest weather forecasts, check out the homepage of the National Weather Service’s forecast office in San Diego. That is where the television and radio forecasters get their information.

For tips on how to drive in various weather conditions, check out these tips from Edmunds.com.

About dcoats

I'm Daniel Coats, a CSU Fullerton Communications graduate student
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