Last fall we crossed our fingers that the predicted El Niño weather pattern would drench us just enough to alleviate California’s critical drought conditions, but not so much that the flood control system would be overwhelmed (even though, as I explained here, past El Niño patterns have not been associated with big flooding events).
The critical factors for past major floods have been how early in the year water falls (earlier means reservoirs fill up and there’s less room for additional rains) and whether there is significant rainfall in a short period of time.
So, did El Niño come through? Yes and no.
Yes, it came through, because we got a lot of rain and snow, at least compared to what we’ve received in the past four years of drought. It’s been the wettest year since the drought began in 2012. Our critical Northern California reservoirs (Shasta, Folsom and Oroville) were each over 100% of historical average levels as of April 7. The State Water Project Contractors, who receive water by contract with the Department of Water Resources, are expecting to get 45 percent of requested water for 2016 (that’s comparatively high based on the last few years of precipitation).
Our statewide snowpack has also fared well in the winter of 2016. As of April 1 it was 89 percent of average; skiers have rejoiced after a few dismal years.
But no, it didn’t come through, because our precipitation remains below average in both Northern and Southern California, and Southern California is particularly low. Reservoirs in the San Joaquin Valley have not recovered the way northern reservoirs have.