A photo of a dry river bed.

Weird Weather – California Drought and Hydrometric Data Quality

Everyone, everywhere, seems to be talking about weird weather this year. In a recent skiing holiday to Austria I experienced fall, winter and spring within a ten day period. Green grass on arrival; an intense sequence of winter storms; followed by double digit temperatures and rapid melt. The locals claimed it was the least snow in the Tyrol region in 34 years. I talked to many skiers from all around the world at an event I was participating in and they all talked about unusually poor snow conditions at home.

Snow is nature’s reservoir.

Nature uses snow to store water where it falls and then the stored water is typically released in a sequenced and orderly schedule controlled by elevation, aspect and weather. Ecosystems and economic activities are highly adapted to the natural regulation of stream flow by phase change from snow to liquid water.

The California drought has been making headlines.

A compelling argument has been made that the adverse weather experienced locally in California is a direct consequence of a “vast zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast, nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, so stubborn that one researcher has dubbed it the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” which in turn is a result of loss of Arctic sea ice.

If this argument holds true then one might assume that, until such a time as Arctic sea ice returns to ‘normal’, one might reasonably expect a similar phenomenon to occur in future winters. A return to normal Arctic sea ice conditions might take a while, say a few millennia. In the meantime we have some adaptation issues to deal with.

No one is predicting a net loss of fresh water availability; it is just that it won’t be where we want it, when we want it. There are a number of possible mitigating actions including migration to water sufficient regions, and/or storage and transport of water to water deficient regions.

Good data about water quantity is obviously going to become more important as water management decisions increase in both scope and consequence. The precision of the information needed for adaptive management will need to improve. Every source of available water will need to be relevant to the solution. The need for accuracy is much greater in a world of insufficiency than it is in a world of surplus. Every drop will count.

Photo credit: sxc | Rifts on earth Free Photo

Related Whitepaper: Monitoring Water in Extreme Droughts

July 2015 was the hottest month in recorded history according to NOAA! Extreme droughts around the world are creating an opportunity for hydrologists to record a historic event. Every drop counts. Every measurement counts. Droughts are a global problem that require new hydrological insight. Stu Hamilton’s latest whitepaper presents 7 best practices for monitoring water during droughts.

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