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Ominous Outlook for California’s Wildfire Season


By Dan Hounsell Emergency Preparedness
huge fire

Recent years have seen California’s wildfire season expand beyond a few months to the entire calendar year, and conditions in spring and early summer give an early indication of the severity of what lies ahead. In the case of 2022, the outlook is ominous, and the need for resilience among institutional and commercial facilities is becoming essential. 

The state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently conducted the fourth snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. Following three straight months of record dry conditions, the manual survey recorded just 2.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 1 inch, which is four percent of average for this location for April 1. Statewide, the snowpack is just 38 percent of average for this date. 

The snowpack at Phillips Station has plummeted since the beginning of the year. On Dec. 30, the snowpack stood at 202 percent of normal for that date. In a normal season, the snowpack depth would be about 5feet deep at this time of year. The snow water equivalent measured at the snow survey shows the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of the department’s water supply forecast, including anticipated runoff into the state’s reservoirs. 

“The conditions we are seeing today speak to how severe our drought remains. DWR has been planning for the reality of a third dry year since the start of the water year on October 1,” says Karla Nemeth, DWR’s director. “While DWR has made significant investments in forecasting technology and other tools to ensure we make the most out of the snowmelt we do receive, water conservation will remain our best tool in the face of this ongoing drought and the statewide impacts of a warming climate. All Californians must focus on conserving water now.” 

Dry conditions impact every region of the state, as the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra snowpacks all stand just above 28-43 percent of average for this date. 

“Today’s snow survey reinforces what we’ve all observed – California just experienced the driest three months on record, and drought is worsening throughout the West,” says Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources. “Climate-driven water extremes are part of our reality now, and we must all adapt and do our part to save water every day.” 

The state is urging Californians to conserve as much water as possible to make it last. Gov. Newsom has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15 percent with simple measures to protect water reserves. The governor called on local water suppliers to move to Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plans, which require locally appropriate actions that will conserve water across all sectors, and he directed the state’s water resources control board to consider a ban on the watering of decorative grass at businesses and institutions.

Dan Hounsell is senior editor, facility group

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