Meteorologists fall short of calling drought for S.F., despite record dry year 

The driest calendar year on record in San Francisco is over, but with little rain in the forecast ahead, there's more dryness yet in store.

But don't call it a drought: It's not yet even the driest water year on record, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. A "water year" measures precipitation in the Sierras between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30.

Last year, a record-low 5.59 inches of rain fell on downtown San Francisco, according to the National Weather Service. That's 24 percent of the normal rainfall seen in The City.

Rain fell on The City 31 times in all of 2013, according to Golden Gate Weather Services. A normal year usually has twice those days of rain -- and a wet year sees three times that amount.

And 2014 has begun the same way that the warm and dry 2013 ended: more warmth and sun in a cloudless sky, with more of the same forecast for the month ahead.

There are a couple of days of rain predicted for January. An afternoon shower is "possible" next Wednesday, with "periods of rain" on tap for a week from today. But overall, January is expected to see mostly sunshine in San Francisco, varying from "abundant" to "brilliant," according to AccuWeather. The dry weather has forced the Recreation and Park Department to use about 10 percent more water than normal, with extra attention paid to irrigating golf courses and athletic fields, according to spokeswoman Connie Chan.

Fountains and the artificial waterfalls in Golden Gate Park are all running as normal, she added.

Extended dry weather last led city officials to call for a "voluntary" 10 percent reduction in water use in 2007, according to Alison Kastama, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages The City's water supply.

Any such declaration this year is a few months away at least.

A preliminary estimate of the water supply will be issued Feb. 1. The final assessment of the year ahead -- along with any requests to conserve water -- is due April 15, she added.

California has an arid climate, so most native plants are drought-resistant -- as are the invasive eucalyptus trees in the Presidio, which haven't needed extra care yet, Presidio Trust spokeswoman Dana Polk said.

The same isn't true for some of the rarer flora found at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, which require extra watering, Chan said.

The number that stands out for water-level observers was in 1977, the region's driest "water-year" on record with rain at 45 percent of normal.

So far during the current water-year, precipitation is at 30 percent of normal.

That may bode ill for the future, with one-third of the rainy season gone and clear skies in the near future, but observers are not calling a drought quite yet.

"We're watching and waiting to see what the next three months hold for us," Kastama said.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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