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SCV in midst of moderate drought

Increased fire danger due to lack of winter rain

Posted: July 9, 2008 1:58 a.m.
Updated: September 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley is faring better than the rest of California as the statewide drought proclaimed a month ago by the governor continues to deepen, according to weather and water experts.

No matter which weather chart or section of the sky you look at, however, it’s dry in the Santa Clarita Valley and expected to get drier. Good drought conditions, say the experts, create good fire conditions.

“We really needed a lot of rain this year to make up for very low amount of rainfall we had last year, and that just didn’t happen,” Steve Cole, general manager of the Newhall County Water District, said Tuesday.
“The rain year before this one was so dry we had a total of six inches for the whole rain year.”

A rain year — the year used to measure annual rainfall — runs from October to September.

“We had a really weird rain year this year,” Cole said.

A rain gauge set up at the Newhall Water District’s office on San Fernando Road revealed that most of Santa Clarita’s rain came all at once in January, leaving the rest of the year pretty much dry.

The Newhall gauge gathered 17.54 inches of water in January, out of a total rainfall reported so far this year of 23.12 inches, according to Cole.

“As far as the total goes, we’re not too much off the mark for what we usually get, it’s just that we got it all in one month,” he said. “Historically, the next couple of months will mean we don’t get that much rain.”

The National Weather Service reported the Santa Clarita Valley as receiving six inches in January and just over an inch for the rest of the year.

While the actual precipitation reported by the service fell short of the amount tabulated by the local water district, the proportions reflect the same conditions — dry and getting drier.

A look at the service’s online U.S. Drought Monitor shows Santa Clarita sitting on the edge of a “moderate drought” area encompassing most of the state.

“We’re not doing terribly bad right now,” said Mark Jackson, metrologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Oxnard. “We had a really decent December and January but then it really kind of went off the map. Even though we started off the year with a good winter, we lost valuable time. Now, we’re really starting to dry out.”

On June 4, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought, calling on water agencies and California residents to start conserving water.

A week later, in response to severe water shortages, he proclaimed a state of emergency in nine Central Valley counties that include: Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern.

The online U.S. Drought Monitor shows these areas as Extreme Drought.

“We’re not as bad as it has been in other areas of the state,” Jackson said about Santa Clarita. “As far as the governor’s declaration of a drought goes, we’ve had several years of sub-normal precipitation.

“We’re seeing very dry fire conditions right now,”  he said. “Santa Clarita is right on the edge of a moderate drought area. Right now we’re heading into our usual dry time of the year, any rainfall we get in July and August is a bonus.”

Extraordinarily dry areas, particularly those in Northern California, have created very dry fire conditions which have contributed to several wildfires, destroying thousands of acres so far this summer.

The National Interagency Coordination Center reports today that firefighting crews are battling 53 “uncontained” fires in Northern California and five “uncontained” large fires in Southern California.

Annual wildfire threats to Santa Clarita Valley could materialize earlier this year given the pronounced lack of rain.

“It just takes one lightening strike to spark a fire,” Jackson warned.

On Tuesday afternoon the U.S. Forest Service reported the Gap fire, 3.5 miles north of Goleta, near Santa Barbara, as 50 percent contained, consuming 9,710 acres, burning dry chaparral and 50-year-old trees.


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