Mar 30, 2023 - News

San Francisco sees third wettest winter ever

Winter 2022-23 precipitation anomalies
Data: NOAA; Map: Axios Visuals

San Francisco got 22.4 inches of precipitation this past winter — 10 inches more than average, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Erin Davis report.

  • That's almost twice as much rain as usual!

Why it matters: As San Francisco knows all too well now, wintertime precipitation can cause hazards from falling trees and window panes to floods and power outages — but it can also alleviate drought, especially in areas that rely on melting snowpack each spring to replenish groundwater supplies.

  • We also had record-breaking low temps this week. Monday's 42-degree low made it the coldest day downtown in 125 years, according to The Chronicle.

Zoom in: San Francisco's winter was the third wettest on record, according to 77 years of data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • Meteorologists called this week's onslaught an "extratropical cyclone" but "atmospheric river" is also now a familiar term. Those are "long, narrow highways of moisture, typically located at about 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the surface," Axios' Andrew Freedman writes in this helpful explainer.

Zoom out: Like California, parts of the Midwest United States also had some of the wettest winter weather on record.

  • The opposite was true in the Pacific Northwest and in parts of Texas and Florida, which were significantly drier than average.

Of note: For this analysis, last "winter" is defined as Dec. 1, 2022 – Feb. 28, 2023.

What's next: Climate change is raising the odds and severity of precipitation extremes — both heavy rain and snow as well as prolonged and severe dry spells.

  • However, it doesn't mean every season — or each year — will set a record.

The bottom line: All this precipitation is easing concerns about drought somewhat. Still, what's fallen so far is nowhere near enough to fully resolve the water crisis that continues to plague the American West.


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