December 2, 2022

California is most likely heading into a fourth consecutive year of drought.

The state’s water year ends tomorrow, which has prompted predictions about what’s in store for the next 12 months. (California’s water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, so that the winter rainy season falls within a single water year.)

The forecasts tend to agree: The Golden State’s extreme drought, exacerbated by warming temperatures and increasingly unpredictable precipitation patterns, is expected to continue into the new year. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned on Wednesday that Californians must adjust to a hotter and drier world.

“As the state prepares for the possibility of a fourth dry year and potential weather extremes, it’s more important than ever that all of us adopt water conservation as a way of life,” Newsom said in a statement. “Together, we can save water and save California.”

Many of the state’s water providers have already instated unprecedented restrictions this year, and Californians are increasingly ripping out their thirsty lawns. But the state’s water supplies are still more depleted than we would hope.

The past 12 months were cooler and rainier than the prior year, and many of California’s biggest reservoirs are fuller than they were a year ago, John Yarbrough, the assistant deputy director for the Department of Water Resources, told the California Water Commission last week. While that’s good news, reservoir levels are still well below average, he said. It’s “better than last year, not good enough,” he said.

California typically gets 75 percent of its annual rainfall between November and March, a feature of its Mediterranean-type climate. That concentrated wet season means that a few months of low rain can have a major impact on the state’s water availability for the year.

This winter, weather officials are predicting La Niña conditions for the third year in a row. Like its climatological cousin El Niño, La Niña is a weather phenomenon that originates in the Pacific Ocean but can affect the whole world.

In California, La Niña generally means less rain than usual, particularly in the southern two-thirds of the state, said Brad Pugh of the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. It’s always possible that this La Niña could beat the odds and bring heavy storms, “but right now, the most likely outcome is for below normal precipitation this winter,” Pugh told me.

And even if this winter were to be exceptionally rainy, the state’s water problems are probably too severe to reverse in a single season, experts say.

The land is so parched that when it does rain, the plants and soil will absorb more rain than they would otherwise, limiting how much ends up in rivers and streams. Warmer temperatures mean precipitation is more likely to fall as rain instead of snow, so it can’t be stored as easily for the summer. Not to mention that the Colorado River, a major source of water for Southern California, is in dire shape, said Alex Hall, the director of the Center for Climate Science at U.C.L.A.

“We need a really terrific water year, and probably even maybe a couple of pretty amazing water years, to get us out of this hole,” Hall told me.

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Today’s tip comes from Rebecca Fahrlander:

“One of my favorite places in California is a classic: the Lone Cypress. This beautiful old tree is on the scenic Pacific Coast near Pebble Beach and Carmel. I remember first visiting it back in the day, as part of a day trip out of San Francisco. It struck me as the embodiment of Ram Dass’s famous saying, “Be here now.” Windblown, serene, precariously hanging on to the edge of a continent, it beckons one to stop, meditate and take in the beauty of the tree itself, the Pacific and California.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


It’s officially fall. What do you love about the season in California? What are the best ways to enjoy fall in your corner of the state?

Email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com with your stories, memories and recommendations.


Bored during your commute? Bay Area Rapid Transit has installed short story dispensers at four stations so you can read some fiction while you ride.

The project is part of a one-year pilot program aiming to bring together arts and transit. The story dispensers are at the Fruitvale, Pleasant Hill, Balboa Park and Richmond stations, and offer riders one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads, KQED reports.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia, Jaevon Williams and Francis Mateo contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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