After breathing unhealthful levels of smoke for more than two weeks, the incredible clear out for Thanksgiving Day reminded all of us why we are here. That eventful quarter-inch of rain on November 21 brought drastic improvement in the local conditions and changed the outlook of an entire town as it was bursting at the seams with visitors.
Then seven days later, Kaweah Country received a more generous soaking of 2.50 inches of rainfall for the 36 hours from November 28 until December 1 (at 1,000 feet elevation).
The steady, mostly light rain on Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 5-6, kept the landscape greening, ushered in the start of the burn season, and reiterated the role that precipitation plays in the sustainability of life. But whether or not one subscribes to the reality of climate change, patterns of rainfall and temperature are changing.
The year 2018 is on track to become the planet’s warmest ever on record, at least since statistics began to be archived in the 19th century. The year 2016 ranks as the hottest average temperature in recorded history followed by 2015, 2017, and 2014 in that order. The differences are slight but worth noting.
Taking a look at local precipitation statistics for the last 10 years are indicative on what these hotter average temperatures are doing everywhere. Of the last decade in Kaweah Country, and relying primarily on rainfall totals for Three Rivers, there are some discernible trends.
Four of the last 10 years were extreme conditions of drought (2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2017-2018). Two years were moderately dry, that is to say below the “old” normal, (2008-2009 and 2011-2012). Four years will be remembered as wet years (2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2015-2016, and 2016-17).
Notwithstanding the sample size, there are some interesting patterns beginning to emerge. Firstly, the snowpack and water content is way down; total rainfall for the period is in decline but not sharply.
The alarming trend is that droughts are lasting longer, deepening, and recurring more frequently as wet years are becoming fewer and farther between. Of course, more data are needed to make definitive predictions but there is no time like the present to begin making changes in the culture of water use.
To date in the 2018-2019 season, a total of 3.5 inches of rainfall has been recorded in Three Rivers at 1,000 feet. There is some snow in the nearby mountains, especially above 10,000 feet. But rising average temperatures will test the staying power of any snowpack that accumulates this year in the Sierra Nevada.
There is a good chance for another significant precipitation event on or around mid December. In the meantime, temperatures will remain on the cold side (low 40s to daytime highs in the low 60s).