Kern County experiencing extreme drought conditions

One of the driest starts to the year on record

Kern County has experienced two winters of below-average rainfall, degrading the region to 'extreme drought levels’, the National Weather Service in Hanford reports.

This summer has been one of the driest starts to a year on record, the NWS said. Records show Bakersfield has only collected 2.36 inches of rain since January 1, when we’re used to an average of 4.41 inches. We’ve only seen a trace amount of rain for the months of July and August, which was simply thanks to the monsoonal thunderstorms moving in from the desert.

The dry conditions have resulted in reduced winter snowpack, a reduction in the water levels at the Isabella reservoir and drier than usual vegetation. All that adds up to dangerously dry conditions, and what promises to be an active remainder of the fire season.

Kern County has already seen several fires this summer, but the latest round was due to the weather, not human behavior. Dry lightning strikes from thunderstorms on Monday sparked several small brush fires in the mountains, with the largest resulting in the Shirley Fire that is still burning near the Alta Sierra ski resort.

To our north, the worst fire of the season so far has been the Aspen Fire, which the NWS says burned 23,000 acres and sent smoke billowing into the valley, worsening our air quality.

The NWS said that, based on values from August 11, pasture and rangeland conditions across California were reported as 55-percent being very poor, 40-percent poor and only 5-percent fair. “Combined, this gives an index value of 50 on a 0-400 scale,” their report listed. “For early August, the only other years since 1995 to rank lower are 2007 & 2008.”

The NWS used Bakersfield as a proxy station for their report, and found that due to the exceptional length of the city’s climatological history (120 years of reporting), 2013 thus far ranks as the 15th warmest and 14th driest season through August 15.

As for our hope for rain, the NWS predicts there aren’t any strong climate forcing signals, like a wet La Nina season, currently detected or anticipated to develop this winter and bring a healthy rain. “The precipitation outlooks issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center currently indicate an equal chance for precipitation to be above, near, or below normal. There is a slight probability that temperatures will average to be warmer than normal,” the report said.

So since we can’t count on the rain, there’s no expectation that we will be able to increase water flow in local rivers and the Isabella Reservoir.

The NWS will issue its next report on September 19.

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