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2013 smashed record for lack of rainfall

By KELLY NIX

Published: January 4, 2013

IT’S OFFICIAL: 2013 was by far the driest year on record in the Monterey Peninsula.

Before this year’s low of 4.19 inches in Monterey, “the record lowest rainfall was 8.96 inches, and that was in 1953,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Benjamin told The Pine Cone Monday. Record keeping dates back to 1949.

The arid conditions have left vegetation highly susceptible to fire, caused the Carmel River to dry up, and raised concerns that Peninsula residents would soon be faced with water rationing. If there’s a saving grace for water customers, it’s that demand for H2O on the Monterey Peninsula has been much lower than predicted, making rationing unlikely for now. However, the lack of rainfall has spelled trouble for steelhead trout in the Carmel River.

Carmel River Steelhead Association president Brian LeNeve characterized the Carmel River’s condition as “disastrous.” The organization regularly rescues fish from areas of the river with little flow.

“The river started drying back in May of 2012, and right now, the flow in the upper river is as low as I have ever seen it,” LeNeve told The Pine Cone Thursday.

The lower portion of the Carmel River has had no flow for eight months, he said.

“Eight months of pumping without any replacement water [from rain] has drawn the water table so far down that it will take more than normal flow to get the river running again,” LeNeve said. “And it is beginning to look like we will have less than normal rain this winter.”

The poor conditions could result in no flow reaching the mouth of the river, which would prevent oceangoing, adult steelhead from migrating upstream this year.

“I saw it happen in the late 1970s and late ’80s,” LeNeve said “In the late ’80s, the river didn’t make it to the ocean for four years.”

Extremely dry vegetation is probably to blame for the quick moving Pfeiffer Fire in Big Sur that destroyed more than 30 houses in December.

Many other areas in Monterey County and the rest of the state also had record low rainfall. A former professor of meteorology in the Skyline Forest area collects rainfall totals for Monterey and forwards the data to the National Weather Service.

“Salinas had 3.94 inches total all year,” Benjamin said. “Their previous record low was 7.33 inches, and that was in 1961.”

King City got 1.98 inches, beating the 1953 record low of 3.14 inches.

San Jose’s total was 3.80 inches, compared to a previous low of 6.84 inches, while San Francisco ended the year with 5.59 inches, compared to an old record low of 9 inches, Benjamin said. And that city’s records date to 1850.