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African, Asian dust affects Calif. weather
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (UPI) Mar 1, 2013

Reduced snow pack is Calif. water worry
San Francisco (UPI) Mar 1, 2013 - The driest January and February on record in California left a reduced snow pack that could lead to water shortages into the spring and summer, officials say.

Snow surveyors from the California Department of Water Resources reported the snow pack average for the Sierra Mountain range was 66 percent of average.

The snow pack normally provides about one-third of the water for California's farms and communities but rainfall since December in the mountain regions has been just 13 percent of average, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.

Several large storms over the next month would be needed to get the state close to normal precipitation this year but no precipitation is currently forecast, officials said.

Monthly snow surveys are important, they said, because they are used to project the amount of the water that will be available in the summer to help irrigate millions of acres of farmland and provide drinking water to California's 37.8 million people.

Dust from African and Asian deserts can have an impact on California's water supply by increasing rain and snowfall, researchers say.

High-altitude dust blown thousands of miles across the Pacific from Asian and African can make it rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, they said.

Scientist say while two similar Sierra storms in winter 2009 carried the same amount of water vapor, one produced 40 percent more precipitation than the other, and an analysis of ground samples of the rain and snow dropped by the wetter storm found an abundance of Asian dust.

In 2011, another analysis of atmospheric samples compared with ground measurements confirmed that when dust particles from halfway around the globe were detected in the clouds swirling above the Sierra peaks, there was more rain and snow.

"There was this sort of magical switch," study co-author Kim Prather, a University of California, San Diego atmospheric chemist, told the Los Angeles Times. "The days with dust you see one thing, and the days without dust you see a different thing."

Previous research has shown windblown mineral dust transported long distances can be a seed for atmospheric ice that can lead to a significant amount of precipitation.

"The fact that something happening on another continent in terms of dust generation could influence precipitation patterns in the United States -- that's a challenging problem," said co-author Marty Ralph, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ralph said he had initially doubted aerosols -- dust and other atmospheric particles -- could affect whether a cloud gives up water or holds on to it.

But the evidence from the 2009 storms "was a bit of a scientific epiphany," he said. "I came into this very skeptical and have come to where I am now, co-authoring a paper that's saying aerosols can have a significant impact."


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