January marked Merced’s driest month in 17 years, but an incoming storm system could break the dry spell.
According to the National Weather Service, which has kept track of rainfall in Merced since 1998, the city received only 0.02 inches this past month. The average rainfall for the month of January is about 2.61 inches.
Before this year, the driest January on record was in 2013 when 0.31 inches of rain fell.
Christine Riley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said December through February are typically the wettest months, but because of a persistent high pressure system, Merced did not receive much January rain.
In December, Merced received 3.39 inches of rain, almost double the month’s average of 1.85 inches. “It was the third-highest December, as far as (rainfall) records go,” Riley said.
Merced joins several other areas in Northern and Central California that are reporting their driest January on record.
The Sacramento Bee reported that the latest survey of California’s mountain snowpack last week revealed that it was only 25 percent of normal for the date. The northern Sierra Nevada, a region that is crucial to statewide water supplies, recorded the lowest January snowpack ever.
Mike Anderson, the state climatologist employed by the California Department of Water Resources, said a dry January will continue drought conditions. “We haven’t historically seen a change in February, March and April – after a dry January – that would give sufficient conditions to erase the drought,” he told The Bee.
Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced, said Merced would need four to five storms each winter for the next couple of years to relieve the area’s drought conditions.
Although a dry January is not necessarily indicative of a dry winter, according to Bales, he does believe rainfall levels will be less than average again because of this dry start.
The big concern, Bales explained, is that reservoirs don’t have much water in them, making each drought year a bigger problem.
Riley said a storm system heading toward the area is giving her some hope. The meteorologist said the system could possibly deliver a “decent amount” of rain over the weekend and well into next week.
The weather service website is reporting a 40 percent chance of showers by Friday night.
Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
0.02: Inches of rain in Merced in January, a record low
0.31: Inches in January 2013, the previous record
2.61: Historical average for January since 1998
Source: National Weather Service