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Another dry January on tap?

December 27, 2013

While it is possible that California may see a mild El Niño winter, local weather forecaster Dennis Mattinson said residents can expect dry weather to continue through at least the first two weeks of the new year. Photo by Darcy Ellis

With 2013 wrapping up and 2014 rolling in next week, local weather forecaster Dennis Mattinson is saying the first couple weeks of January may be a repeat of last year.
Back in October, Mattinson said very preliminary information suggested that California could expect a moderate El Niño year and the warm, wet weather it brings.
That was good news for the Owens Valley, which is putting a cap on one of the driest years on record.
However, this week, Mattinson said winter storms that typically roll into the area in early January are being boxed out by a high pressure system that extends from California to Washington state.
“Weather-wise, or should I say moisture-wise, this year has been brutal,” Mattinson said. “This has been one of the driest years on record for many locations in California, including Fresno and the Central Valley. Most of the state is under drought or extreme drought conditions. If you remember, we started this year with the driest January, February and March on record, and that just carried on through the rest of the year.”
Mattinson said current weather conditions are almost a “carbon copy” of last January’s conditions.
“I am looking at the long- range forecast models and they show no major storms for our district through Jan. 4. The possible expected storm the first week in January 2014 now looks like a bust. After that two-week period (admittedly not very accurate) still no storms on the horizon. Until that system breaks, we’re locked in. It’s the same thing we had last year.”
Mattinson said the Owens Valley could still have a weak system or two riding over the ridge of high pressure, “because the weather up here can change on a dime.”
Mattinson said the Eastern Sierra is unseasonably warm, but not hot, and a strong low-pressure system could uproot the current high-pressure system that is in place.
“It’s pretty darn dry. There’s no moisture at all. We will have mild days, fairly cold nights until the end of the year. But we just started winter, we’re not even a week in,” Mattinson said Friday. “January and February are our rainiest months, so there’s still plenty of time for stuff to happen.”
Mattinson did add that the Owens Valley, and much of California, for that matter, has been in a long-term drought pattern that, in his opinion, is caused by climate change. “If it is driven by climate change, as I fear, it is very serious and not easily dislodged,” he said. “But there is definitely a possibility that we’ll still go into a mild El Niño and get some weather in January, February and March,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean the drought will be over.
Mammoth Mountain is currently supplementing its natural snow base with man-made snow, so the slopes are open and many, both residents and visitors to the area, have been taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to hike and enjoy other outdoor activities.
While the slopes are white and visitors continue heading to Mammoth to ski and snowboard, an extended drought in the Owens Valley poses other challenges in the form of dry creeks and ditches and popular high-elevation lakes with low water levels.
Last week Inyo County Water Director Bob Harrington said many Bishop residents have complained that their creeks and ditches are bone dry as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power continues pumping for stock water uses and water exports.
The LADWP is scheduled to begin working on its annual Owens Valley pumping plan for the next pumping year. The plan, which is released each spring, includes a runoff forecast and guidelines for how much water the department plans to pump from each of its wells in the Owens Valley.
“I worry quite a bit about the Owens Valley,” Mattinson said. “The plants are suffering, the water table is low, the snowpack is low, and we are already in a desert climate.”

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