Sacramento’s water rebates continue as warm, gorgeous December spells trouble ahead

Photograph by Wil Stewart

Warm and dry; that’s our current weather outlook, and it has rain watchers worried.

Can we complain about near-perfect December weather? Yes, if it means a third consecutive year of drought.

According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento will continue to bask in “unseasonably warm” temperatures for at least another week or two. That means afternoon highs pushing into the 70s under clear, sunny skies. Historically, the average high temperature for this week: 60 degrees.

Although weather patterns looked promising a month ago, November proved to be far below average rain wise with less than half of normal precipitation.

Instead of celebrating early snow, Sierra ski areas postponed openings or created their own man-made snow for limited runs. That meager Sierra snowpack is also vital for the valley’s water supply.

On Monday, the NWS Sacramento office shared a photo from a polar-orbiting satellite that showed just how little snow is capping Northern California mountains. The photo also showed the burn scars of the Dixie, Caldor, August Complex and North Complex wildfires amid the foothill green-up prompted by October’s heavy rain.

Remember that rain? It sure felt like it had drought-busting potential. But one bomb cyclone is not enough.

October’s deluge posted record one-day rain totals (including 5.41 inches at Sacramento Executive Airport), but a very dry November put that wet start to our rain year in perspective.

November totaled only 0.72 inches – about the same precipitation for November 2019 and November 2020. Normal for the month: 2 inches.

That’s after a soggy October in Sacramento that totaled 6.72 inches, more than four times average for that month.

Those rain totals also had a direct impact on local water use. According to water providers, Sacramento-area residents reduced their water use by 17% in October compared to October 2020.

“The significant decrease in October demonstrates just how much weather and landscape water use impact the region’s overall water-use patterns as people turned off their sprinkler systems with the rain,” said Amy Talbot, RWA water efficiency program manager. “Some of this savings will become permanent as water providers, such as the City of Sacramento, continue to experience a surge in rebate applications for replacing lawn with low-water landscaping.”

Thanks to all that early rain, Sacramento is still in pretty good shape, water wise, compared to where we stood in drought years 2019 and 2020. Sacramento Executive Airport has received 7.44 inches so far since our new rain year began Oct. 1. That’s 41% of our average total (18.1 inches) and more precipitation than we received in all of the previous rain year (6.61 inches) that ended Sept. 30.

Although that stormy October made quite a splash, winter is when nature really builds its moisture reserves with Sierra snowpack at higher elevations and slow-moving, soaking rain in the valley.

Unfortunately, our long-range forecast looks pretty dry. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, our winter will be warmer and dryer than average. Late December can expect some big storms, but January, February and March – usually our rainiest time of the year – will see lower than normal precipitation, perhaps 5 to 6 inches below normal.

With that dry forecast in mind, local water providers are still offering rebates and resources for water-efficient upgrades.  But as Talbot mentioned, City of Sacramento and other providers have seen high demand for rebates. Apply before those funds run out. Find rebate links at

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