After 2013 set record for low rainfall, more dry weather expected in next 3 months
Last year was the driest on record throughout the North Coast, and the outlook isn't encouraging.
With just 28.92 inches of precipitation, Crescent City finished the year with 45 percent of its normal amount, beating the previous low record of 33.23 inches recorded in 1976.
A persistent weather pattern kept the jet stream flowing away from California for most of the year, according to hydrologist Reginald Kennedy at the National Weather Service's Eureka office.
"Basically, we're getting a very strong high pressure just off our coast that forces storms to go to the north and then they drop down to the east of us, so we miss out on the heavy rain," Kennedy said.
As a result, Del Norte is experiencing a moderate drought, according to the National Drought Monitor, which predicts dry weather will persist in the next three months.
"If we have a wet spring, that would ease the concerns for our dry conditions, but there are no indications in the outlook that we're going to have any normal precipitation," Kennedy said.
Due to one exceptional month - an extremely wet September saw precipitation totals that were 517 percent of normal - Del Norte's drought status is not as severe as it otherwise would be, but the situation is more dire to the south, which saw little of September's wet weather.
With precipitation at 40 percent of normal, Eureka overturned its previous driest year record from 1929 by 5 inches, and Ukiah bested its 1976 record by a whopping 12 inches, recording 20 percent of normal precipitation in 2013 - a paltry 7.5 inches of precipitation fell there.
The northern Sierra Nevada, an area where snowpack is key to the state's water picture, received only 10 percent of its average snowfall last month, and the National Drought Monitor classifies the drought situation on California's Central Coast and in the San Joaquin Valley as extreme.
While Del Norte does not face the same risks as reservoir-dependent areas of the state, it is having an impact.
Salmon fishing on the Smith River has been dismal, and rafting guide Brad Camden says he has been able to do only one North Fork shuttle this year, when last year he did nine in the same time frame.
North Coast ranching and dairy operations are concerned there will not be enough range grasses for cattle and some rural areas are having to deepen residential wells, Kennedy said.
Aquifer reserves are little help in Del Norte because most wells are shallow and only tap into groundwater, said Andrea Souther with the Del Norte office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and groundwater supplies are suffering.
"Any rain we've seen since May has not hit groundwater. About 12 inches of winter precipitation is needed before some soil profiles begin to fill," Souther said.
But with only 4 inches of precipitation since Oct. 1 - 16 percent of normal - Del Norte's coastal plain is still far short of that mark with no hope in sight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Matthew C. Durkee at firstname.lastname@example.org.