Dry and drier – Year’s precipitation ends below average, increasing fire risk | TheUnion.com

Dry and drier – Year’s precipitation ends below average, increasing fire risk

Most Americans mark the new year at the beginning of January, but to California meteorologists, July 1 is a special day. On that day, the calendar flips and a new precipitation year is born.

And only nine days into the new year, the weather has been pretty much as expected, said Steve Martinez, a meteorologist for Roseville-based Qwikcast.com.

“Right now, we’re at normal – no precipitation,” Martinez said with a laugh.

But last year wasn’t normal. Western Nevada County ended the year 5 to 8 inches below average, Martinez said.

Grass Valley received 42 inches of precipitation last year, 8 inches below its average of 50 inches. Nevada City saw 52 inches, below its average of 58.5 inches.

The shortage increases the risk of fire this year and forces area growers, and gardeners, to rely more heavily on irrigation.

Nevada County grower Carol Hollingsworth said her grapes have ripened earlier than usual, although this summer has nothing on a summer in the late 1970s when the Nevada Irrigation District was forced to cut her water supply in half.

So it’s safe to put the umbrellas away until mid-September, when the first winter storm could arrive, Martinez said.

But the exact timing is unknown because it’s hard to predict weather accurately more than 10 days in advance, said Martinez and Don Noxon, a National Weather Service forecaster.

“The state of the art is probably a little better than 50 percent (for more than 10 days in the future),” Noxon said. “It’s improving all the time, but it’s still a young science.”

It’s not an El Nino year, when warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific mean lots of rainfall for northern California. Nor is it a La Nina year, when cold ocean temperatures portend a dry winter, Martinez said.

Anxious weather watchers will just have to wait for September.

“It’s really hard to predict something so far ahead when you’re dealing with Mother Nature,” Martinez said.

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