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Oceanographer Says Central, South Coasts Having Good Rainfall Season, But Not A Drought Buster

(NOAA image)
Latest satellite image tracking warm water (red and yellow areas) which can fuel El Nino conditions

It’s been an impressive rainfall season for the Central and South Coasts, but a researcher says it was far from a drought buster.

In Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara’s rainfall is currently at 155% of the historical average for this point in the season, Santa Ynez 142% of average, and Lompoc 167% of average. In Ventura County, Ventura is at 146% of average, Camarillo 154%, and Thousand Oaks 119%. Some of our reservoirs went from less than 20% full to around half full, with Lake Cachuma at 50%, and Lake Casitas at 45%.

A leading oceanographer says even though we’ve had substantial rain, we aren’t even close to closing the book on the drought on the Central and South Coast. Dr. Bill Patzert is a researcher with JPL in Pasadena, and is one of the nation’s leading experts on El Nino and La Nina weather patterns. Patzert says while there’s still time left in the rainfall season, he doubts if we’ll see much more rain. He says while rainfall has been about a third more than average for the rainfall season in our region, it isn’t a drought buster.

Some jurisdictions in our region have eased some water use restrictions. For instance, Santa Barbara lifted its total ban on lawn watering last week. But, Patzert says the region’s groundwater basins are still dangerous low, and recharging them can take years of substantial rainfall. The oceanographer says El Nino conditions in the Pacific, with warmer than average ocean temperatures, helped fuel the significant rain we received this rainfall season.

Patzert says you heard weathercasters using the term “atmospheric rivers” a lot. It’s actually a term meteorologists have used for a long time, but TV weathercasters called it the “Pineapple Express”. It’s the jet stream tapping into big concentrations of tropical moisture, with the end result heavy rainfall. Those atmospheric rivers helped bring us heavy rainfall. He says with warmer than usual ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific, it could again set the stage for another above-average rainfall season.

But, he cautions the reality for now is that while we did get significant rainfall, the drought isn’t over. So, while we can hope for another above average rainfall season, perhaps even better for the next year, water officials say we also need to still think conservation.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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