LA County hits 140-year rainfall low, despite some rain

By Mario Boucher
Hub Correspondent

It’s been 140 years since L.A. County has had less rain.

“Going back to 1877, it was the driest March through December ever,” said Joe Sirard, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.

The county received just .69 inches of rain from March 1 to December 31, which shows how little rain the area has gotten, Sirard said.

The recent two-day rainstorm earlier this month dropped up to 3 inches of rainfall in the Valleys and between 1.3 to 6.06 inches in the mountains. “Prior to the rain event, we hardly had any rain at all,” Sirard said. “That brings the total for the rainfall season to date at 1.89… 38% of normal.”

Ken Clark, expert meteorologist with, said the rainstorm put a minor dent in the state’s long-standing drought. It was not a big dent, he said.

The early January storm will help ease dry conditions and fire threats in the short term, Clark said. Los Angeles normally gets 4.75 inches of rain between October 1 and December 31. Thomas Fire in Ventura County suffered through the largest wildfire in modern history in the fall and hundreds of structures were claimed in the Creek, Rey, and Skirball fires.

Too much rain all at once can be worse than too little. That was the case with the recent rainstorm of 2.77 inches, causing mudslides and flooding and killing 17 people in areas ravaged by fires. Nearly 50 homes were destroyed and hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate when a mudslide in Burbank created havoc. In Santa Barbara County, 100 homes were destroyed and 300 more were damaged. In Duarte, 180 homes were evacuated near the Fish Fire burn area ahead of a flash flood warning.

Reservoirs hanging on

Reservoirs are in good shape and officials are not expecting water shortages this winter. Drought monitoring is based on the level of reservoirs, precipitation, and ground water. “In the short-term, (the recent storm) is one and done,” Clark said. “It’s not a series of storms that’s coming our way. It was just one storm.”

“We’re not officially in a drought and we have moderate dry conditions here in L.A. County,” said Sirard, who adds there may be relief over the horizon.

“There are hints in the long-range model that beyond eight or nine days in the future, we might start to see more rain move into the area,” said Sirard, “but we don’t really know how the rain season will bear itself out. We could wind up near normal by the end of March or April.”

“The long-term outlook has always been for this to be a drier than normal winter in Southern California,” Clark added. “Of course, it’s going to be much drier than we had last year because last year was a very wet winter.”

Unfortunately, one storm does not mean much in the grand scheme of rainfall and a very warm winter well into December is not helping. It will take more than the two or three inches of rain to have any significant effect on overall conditions, Clark said.

“It’s going to be short of normal and probably by a fair bit,” he said. “We definitely need big rainstorms with four or five inches of rain.”

Arcadia resident China Purdom had no idea it has been so dry “because it feels like we’re always in a serious drought” and it’s either very hot or cold in Southern California. “We definitely need more rain and it’s nice to have a few rainy days.”

Rain is good but not a heavy downpour that ends up creating floods and mudslides. Awareness helps officials to minimize deaths and damages.


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