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California marks 2013 as historically dry year

Posted: December 31, 2013 1:25 p.m.
Updated: December 31, 2013 1:25 p.m.
 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A swath of California closed out 2013 as the driest year on record, marked by above-normal temperatures and thirsty reservoirs.

While a drought has not been declared, some communities urged residents to conserve water.

Dozens of cities saw historically parched conditions this year, setting new marks in record-keeping that in some cases dates back more than a century.

Downtown Los Angeles received a meager 3.60 inches of rain since Jan. 1, the driest calendar year since 1877. Normally, downtown would be soaked with about 15 inches of precipitation.

Similarly, San Francisco recorded just 5.59 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, 18 inches below normal. Sacramento is 14 inches below average after receiving 6.13 inches of rain this year.

The records were not to become official until midnight, but there was not a drop of rain in the forecast for the next several days.

"It's been pitiful," said Bob Benjamin, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Monterey, Calif. "It's a concern, but we do have several months to catch up."

December is typically one of the wettest months, but a stubborn dome of high pressure has steered storms away from California for the past month. While the country shivered during Christmas, Californians flocked to the beach and basked in summer-like temperatures.

The dry spell is not all good news.

The lack of rainfall does not bode well for the winter's first snow survey that will be released on Friday. Real-time readings of the water content in the snowpack — which supplies much of California's water — reveal it's only 20 percent of normal.

Many of the state's major reservoirs are below average for the month.

Shasta Lake, the state's largest reservoir, is currently at 37 percent of its total capacity. Folsom Lake recently dipped below 20 percent of its capacity, marking a historic low for the month. This triggered some communities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region to issue water conservation orders.

The Northern California city of Folsom recently mandated that residents cut water consumption by 20 percent. Sacramento County asked unincorporated areas to voluntarily reduce water use by the same amount.

State water managers are also discussing transferring water from places with relative abundance to communities facing critical shortages.

Even before the state was gripped by record dryness, several cities, including Santa Monica and Long Beach in Southern California, have planned to reduce their dependence on imported water in the coming years by maximizing groundwater supplies, harvesting stormwater and increasing recycled water distribution.

Despite an arid year, forecasters said the rainy season is not over yet. In past years, a dry December gave way to storms in January.

"Or we can get a miracle March that bails us out a little bit," said state climatologist Michael Anderson.

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