Meteorologists may not be able to prevent drought, but they’re developing tools to lessen its impact along the west coast.

Folsom Lake
Folsom Lake, about 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, is one site of ‘FIRO’ testing (source: USGS by David Pratt).

There, long dry spells are offset by a handful of winter storms that produce up to half the region’s precipitation. Since these storms often arrive in clusters, reservoirs can quickly overflow. So when the reservoir reaches a certain level, managers release water, sending a precious resource down the drain.

Marty Ralph, director of the Scripps Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, is working with a team of scientists to develop a smarter approach.

Marty Ralph
Scripps water scientist Marty Ralph.

Ralph: “Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, or FIRO for short, is a concept we’re developing to try to bring weather predictions into reservoir operations in a way that might allow for additional water to be stored safely. FIRO’s viability is being explored by a cross-disciplinary, interagency team in a drought and flood-prone region of northern California.”

These better predictions would allow water managers to safely maintain higher water levels after a storm if no additional precipitation is expected.

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As FIRO becomes more accurate at detecting and tracking storms, Ralph says it could minimize unnecessary losses from reservoirs and help thirsty California save water.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.

More Resources
Predictability of horizontal water vapor transport relative to precipitation: Enhancing situational awareness for forecasting western U.S. extreme precipitation and flooding
Atmospheric Rivers: California Rainmakers (video)
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Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC, in Annapolis, Md. Her writing covers the environment, energy, food security, agriculture,...