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Understanding & Predicting Precipitation Patterns

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Indicators now point to a 2020 La Niña event



In the state of California weather patterns and precipitation levels have a huge impact on water resources monitoring. Understanding these weather patterns and the correlation between precipitation, snowpack and water levels can be helpful for water management, especially planning considerations.

We currently live in a time of changing climate where the intensity, duration and frequency of weather patterns are becoming less predictable. Not only are there more heavy and powerful rain seasons, there are also more intense drought periods in between. The terminology used to describe these events are “El Niño” and “La Niña.” El Niño indicates a heavier rain period with potential flooding and deeper, more dense snow packs. La Niña is the term indicating a less active rain period usually connected with drought conditions.

To understand the causes of each, scientist study Pacific Ocean temperature trends as well as barometric pressure. The oscillation between cold and warm water bands in the Pacific Ocean have proven solid indicators of El Niño and La Niña events.


The current historical data indicates that there is a good chance that we are entering a La Niña period.


Armed with this information, water management agents and research teams can prepare for lower precipitation, possible drought conditions and ancillary effects. By having the proper instrumentation and systems in place, we can more accurately and deliberately convey the critical information to adjust water management behaviors in accordance with these challenging weather patterns.


Impact of drought


Less water effects pretty much everything in our ecosystem. The obvious effects are lower lake and reservoir levels, decreased river, stream and creek flows, and decreased snow pack. These decreases impact wild forestation and vegetation as well as wildlife survival. There is also the consideration of drier vegetation that fuels wild fires.


Finally, there is the impact on agriculture, livestock, as well as commercial and residential activities. These affect multiple levels of society - environmental, federal, state, county, municipal.

It is important for government and regulatory decision makers to learn and believe the science to enact effective management policies. Data collecting and data science are part of this learning process. We must learn how to collect quality data and to effectively manage and share the information gleaned from our records. Collecting information, understanding the history and refining the science with the goal of making it accessible to all humans is an ongoing and critical contributor to thriving on our planet.


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