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Dry Weather Outlook Means Conservation Needed

Lack of rain in January was 'remarkable,' according to a forecaster. Not a lot more rain expected in next three months.

Trees are blossoming and daffodils are up. Is it Spring already? Or is it just a burst of warm air, with more winter to come? Is the dry heat a sign of global warming?

All good questions, says a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Monterey.

"It hasn't rained nearly as much as usual and there's not a lot more expected," Logan Johnson told Patch on Tuesday.

"In December, we had just under 7 inches of rain in Sonoma County. In January, we had 0.86 inches, based on a rain gauge at Sonoma State Historic Park," he said.

"It's four years since we had such little rain in January. It's typically one of the wettest months. It's kind of remarkable. Many people remarked on how cold it has been, because dry weather means fewer clouds to trap the heat in at night."

On Dec. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted a Secretarial disaster designation for several counties in California, including Sonoma County, due to agricultural losses caused by drought beginning January 1, 2012, and continuing, according to the County Agricultural Commissioner's website.

Sonoma County growers with questions or who wish to apply for assistance should contact the USDA-Farm Services Agency office located in Petaluma at (707) 794-1242, or at 1301 Redwood Way, Petaluma, CA 94954.

Johnson said the brief round of storms in November and December seems to have ended and dry weather is expected to extend into March and beyond.

"There's a high probability of below normal rainfall for the next three months. That's what we call an outlook—a general forecast based on conditions around the world, which we get from global scale models," he said. "It's based on how weather is moving around the planet, the patterns, and also how much rain has fallen so far. Dry conditions perpetuate dryness, because there's less evaporation."

As for global warming, Johnson said local weather always ties to the global level at some level, but "it's better to just focus on the local conditions."

Tim Anderson at Sonoma County Water Agency told Patch that Spring rains are always critically important.

"We are watching the unusually dry weather situation very closely," he said. "The storage trends at this time are unfavorable and we will need to see a “March Miracle"—two or three rainstorms in March or April that boost water supplies for the summer. It is critically important for us to be able to store enough water in Lake Mendocino to maintain adequate flow in the Russian River in the fall when the salmon return from the Pacific."

Anderson said these situations are good reminders that we live in an area that is vulnerable to drought. 

"It’s a good time to check for water leaks, install water efficient plumbing fixtures and think about re-landscaping with water efficient plants."

The agency provides these water conservation tips on its website.

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