Archive for January, 2014

Drought in Santa Barbara

January 31, 2014

It hasn’t really rained since 7 Dec. Oh we got .01 inches last Sunday (that’s the smallest amount they will measure), and a little sprinkle yesterday, but the total monthly rainfall is .01 and we average 4 inches in January. January is normally our wettest month.
The last 12 months have been the driest consecutive 12 months on record (back to 1868). The next smallest amount was 3.37 inches from Feb 1947 to Jan 1948, and then 3.74 inches from May of 1897 to April of 1898.

San Roque Creek, which is usually full of water in January as it runs beside Jesusita Trail, is currently almost dry. Oddly, it was even drier back in November — perhaps once the sycamores lost their leaves there was more water to flow?

Rainfall in Santa Barbara has always been very erratic. We rarely get the “average” amount of rain, in fact in 62% of years we get less than the average amount. We tend to think that we should get less than the average amount 50% of the time, but that’s because we assume that things are symmetrical, but the distribution of rainfall is not symmetrical — we don’t often get wet years, but when we do, they can be very wet — and that makes up for the fact that most years are dry.
RainFrequencyA graph like the one above represents a poisson distribution, rather than the more familiar normal distribution. More years get about 14 inches of rain than any other amount. So the average rainfall is 18 inches, the median rainfall is 15.5, and the most frequent amount of rainfall is 14 inches. Santa Barbara expects to be dry.

But over the last 12 months we have had 2.9 inches.

That’s extreme.

The wildflowers are dying. Annuals came popping up after the November rains. Yes, it didn’t rain much in November, or December, but our wildflowers are used to dry conditions. It rained enough for them… But there was no rain in January and as the month progressed I watched annual seedlings wither and die. Popcorn flower, stinging lupine, storksbill, phacelias, shooting stars were all recognizable from their leaves in December, but all those leaves are gone or dead now.

Some of the perennials and small shrubs have done better… The plants that were ready in November and December put out shoots or blooms, but those which normally started in January didn’t bother. Manroot (wild cucumber) is usually one of our earliest bloomers starting with the coming of the winter rains, and vines have sprung up and are blooming, but not as many as in years past, and many vines quickly wither and die. Chaparral current is another early bloomer; I saw three plants blooming in December, but none in January; generally there will be plants blooming into March. In one area the late blooming mariposa lilies put out their basal leaves in December; this area is always about a month ahead of other areas; the other areas have not put out any basal leaves.

Hillside Gooseberry normally starts to bloom in late December/early January, but this year I have seen no blooms — until yesterday. Yesterday I found a plant with one dessicated (dead) bloom.

Dry Gooseberry

Normally by now Canyon Sunflowers are showing their large yellow blooms all along Jesusita trail. This year the new leaves they put out in December have shriveled in the drought and there are no blooms. Similarly the hummingbird sage has put out leaves only to have them die. The black sage hasn’t even bothered to produce leaves this year.

Canyon Sunflower

The Bay Laurel is blooming, but only on a few plants, and even some of the ones in bloom have some dessicated buds showing they had to struggle to open. The Ceanothuses are starting to bloom a month later than normal, and I’ve only seen a few blooming (instead of hillsides covered with white or blue). The Holly Leaved Cherries have not bloomed. The Manzanitas have not bloomed.

The saddest comparison I have is of the field of lupines which often grows beside Jesusita. On the left is the field in 2014, on the right in 2010.

Field Of Lupines