With all the storms and flooding that parts of Northern and Central California have experienced over the past month or so, Tehachapi area residents are naturally wondering how our local precipitation compares. The outlook thus far, to use a football analogy, is this: the news is positive, but it’s still only half-time.
Although the Tehachapi Mountains have many microclimates, and areas that get more or less rain and snow, our historical average has been about 12 inches of precipitation annually.
This is based on data from the past 140 years or so, for reasonably reliable records have been kept since about the 1880s.
That figure of 12 inches is just an average of all the years combined, which of course means that we seldom get that actual amount. We usually get either more or less. For example, in 2015 the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District recorded a total of 8.83 inches of precipitation. In 2017 it was way up to 18.66, and in 2018 the total was a meager 6.71 inches.
In 2019, the total was back up to 18.26 inches, but in the bone-dry year of 2021, it was only 4.87.
The total as of Jan. 9 of this year was 5.60 inches, and we had several storms since then, meaning we’re probably looking at around 6 inches or a little more. So we’re at about half of our average annual rainfall so far, with at least two more months that have historically been good rainfall producers.
Most rain and snow in Tehachapi, and Southern California in general, falls between the first of November and the end of March. That doesn’t mean that we never get storms in April or May, but they typically don’t generate a lot of moisture.
The wettest April on record was in 1967, when the total for the month was 3.55 inches of moisture, much of it generated by 33 inches of snow in April of that year. We did get 11 inches of snow in April as recently as 1998, and 7 inches in 2001. Even small storms that generate only .25 of an inch of moisture in spring can be very helpful for wildflowers and grasses, including dry-farmed grains like barley and wheat, but they don’t add much to our overall precipitation total.
“We’re cautiously optimistic at this point,” TCCWD manager Tom Neisler told me. “All of our imported water that we store in Brite Lake comes from the north of us, where they’ve had atmospheric river systems this year, so we’re hopeful that our allocation will go up.”
Last year the district was only given 5 percent of the typical allocation, and was told again this year to expect only 5 percent. However, that figure will be updated at a state meeting this week, and is expected to rise at least a little. Neisler said that the TCCWD needs to receive about 51 percent of its original allocation in order to have enough for all customers to receive what they have requested.
In unusual wet years, when the state has ample water, the district takes additional water and uses it to recharge local aquifers, essentially banking it against inevitable dry years. “We accept every drop of water that’s available from the state, even if it exceeds our customer requirements for that year,” Neisler noted. “We pay the costs ourselves and use it for recharge.”
It certainly has been a blessing to have repeated storms bring rain and some snow to the Tehachapi Mountains this year. Most storms have brought steady, light rains that produced little runoff, so nearly all of the moisture has soaked in.
It is easy to see, however, that we still need lots more rain and snow to help counter years of subpar rainfall years. Almost none of the seasonal creeks have begun flowing, and springs that produce water year-round under wetter conditions have not yet started to seep.
So we’ll hope for more storms after the expected drier period of the next couple of weeks is over. The vegetation, wildlife and humans of the Tehachapi Mountains all benefit from wetter years, especially during this prolonged drought. Storm fronts, here’s our message to you: bring it.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 40 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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