Friday, May 24, 2024

It’s Monday. We talk to Judson Jones, a New York Times meteorologist, about California’s “pretty astonishing” precipitation throughout 2023. Plus, in Los Angeles, the “coroner to the stars” has the last word. Overall, when it comes to precipitation, 2023 has been one for the books. California measures its annual rainfall over a water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and the most recent water year ranked as California’s 10th wettest since record-keeping began 128 years ago.

I spoke to my colleague Judson Jones, a reporter and meteorologist for The New York Times, about California’s year in weather, how to make sense of it and what we can expect in 2024. Here’s our conversation, which has been lightly edited:

So, was 2023 a particularly unusual weather year in California?

It depends on how you define “unusual.” Did we expect atmospheric rivers to wallop California? Yes. Was the rain, after being in a drought so long, major whiplash? Absolutely. Then you think about the snow we saw in Tahoe after getting back-to-back-to-back atmospheric rivers, and these lakes that formed in farmlands. And then Hurricane Hilary — a year’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours in Death Valley. There’s a rare, bizarre event. The amount of water that came down in 2023 was pretty astonishing, for sure.

How would you explain all that rain and snow we saw? Was it random chance? Was it climate change?

I think what we’re seeing with these extremes is that there are a lot of things that are being affected and shifted because of climate change. We know that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so we can see heavier rainfall and bigger snowfall events. Scientists will take their time to attribute different things, like how much was climate change and how much was a shift in weather pattern. Those are things that will continue to come out in studies over the next several years. But the fingerprint of climate change was most definitely in those events.

There’s also a part of extreme weather that just comes down to chaos a little bit. A weather event just setting up at the wrong place at the wrong time can have a huge impact.

Fast-forward to now. We’re moving into an El Niño winter. What does that mean for California?

El Niño shifts the weather pattern, so it brings more storm systems across California. This is probably going to be another pretty good snowfall year. Things can change, but right now it does look as if California is likely to see a wetter winter.

I imagine that means that some of the flooding and other negative effects we saw from so much rain last winter will only be heightened because reservoirs are already full and other flood infrastructure has perhaps been weakened.

It all depends on how quickly storms come back to back, how big they are and how much they magnify each other. If they come a little more slowly, that’s actually great: It puts snow up in the mountains at a steady pace and builds up the snowpack so there’s plenty to get us through the summer. It really all depends on frequency and timing.

Why are the gaps so important? So some of the water can evaporate?

Absolutely. Or to soak in more, or be used. Another problem that happens in California is erosion on the hillsides. These steep hillsides, all of a sudden, take on too much water and can’t support the weight, and then they collapse. Mudslides are always something we think about when there’s an increased risk for precipitation during a season.

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Where we’re travelingToday’s tip comes from Jamie Matter, who recommends visiting Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park:

“If you go camping there it’s not for the fainthearted, but once the boat leaves there are a maximum of 75 visitors on the island. This is because there are only 15 camp sites, which allow a maximum of five people per site. Needless to say, you have to plan well in advance to get a spot, but the quality of the experience is unsurpassed. And the boat ride there and back is great. There are day trips available, of course, but the camping experience is unlike any I’ve ever heard of at other national parks. Imagine being on a miles-long beach and seeing nobody else, or only a handful of other people. Walking through one of only two groves of Torrey pines in the world, and seeing the endemic island foxes running around. They are a success story after nearly going extinct.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell usHow do you celebrate the holidays in California? With a chilly walk by the beach, a batch of tamales or stargazing in the desert?

Email me at with your Golden State holiday traditions. Please include your name and the city in which you live.

And before you go, some good newsThe Bay Area’s greatest contribution to the American burrito canon is arguably the Mission-style burrito, the superstuffed, maximalist style of burrito that originated in San Francisco and has proliferated nationally (made famous, in part, by Chipotle).

But the Bay Area is a diverse burrito destination, and the region has a wide array of restaurants and businesses offering burritos of every style beyond the famous Mission variety. Cesar Hernandez of The San Francisco Chronicle recently created a list of the top burritos in the Bay Area, rounding up the best ones around Northern California, from Petaluma down to San Jose.

Among the 22 places highlighted by Hernandez are a spot specializing in breakfast burritos in the Mission District of San Francisco, a taqueria with Mexico City-style flavors in its burrito fillings and a place that he says offers “Oakland’s most dependable burrito source,” with traditional burritos and customizable creations.

Read the full list and find the best burritos in your area here.

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