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Stubborn High Pressure Ridge Leave California Unusually Parched In Drought

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — It's been a nearly constant sight this winter for meteorologists at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sacramento.

A powerful ridge of high pressure parked over Northern California has been responsible for a record 52 days of no precipitation in Sacramento.

It's not the first time we've seen the dangerously dry weather pattern. A similar one happened in the 1970s, causing one of the worst droughts on record for California. Sacramento saw its previous record of 44 days without measurable rain during what should be the wet season.

That streak was broken on Jan. 20 and continued until rain finally fell on Jan. 29.


National Weather Service hydrologist Cindy Matthews says it's' unlikely the state will recover from the dry start to this winter.

No one knows why the ridge refuses to budge, but so far it's leaving Northern California parched during the December through March period that should be the wettest time of the year.

The ridge is sending Pacific storms up and over the state, and instead into the Northeastern United States.

It's going to take a lot more than a few showers to help the situation.

"It would be nice to shift the ridge to the east and start getting multiple [storms] sliding across California," one meteorologist said.

"Yeah, we need about 20 to 30," another replied.

Matthews says it's so dry right now that the first two or three rains will only saturate the ground. We would still need more after that to allow water to runoff into creeks, reservoirs and streams.

Once the normal wet weather season and spring are over, the melting Sierra snowpack is supposed to keep the water flowing into the summer. But that, too, is nonexistent this year.

"We don't have any snow in the mountains to speak of, and that is what drives our water supply and recharges our reservoirs in the spring," said Alan Haynes with the NWS river forecast center.

And because this is the region's third dry year in a row, a so-called March Miracle filled with rainy days still won't solve the problem. Research shows in the past it's taken two to three months of rainfall to break a drought like this. That's two to three times above normal.

"If we're in a third-year drought, a Miracle March or Fabulous February are not going to save us," Matthews said. "Those months alone aren't enough."

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