Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thirsty California

Below is a recent government map of drought conditions in the state of California.  

As you can see, severe to exceptional drought conditions prevail in almost the entire state.  Eighty-two percent of California, characterized by the large brown patch, is in exceptional drought.  

Experts have described the drought as worst on record, measurably worse than any drought in the entire 20th century.

The current situation follows three years of very low rainfall.  Climate scientists do not believe that rain levels through the 2014-15 season will be high enough to turn things around. 

Here are two drought photos from Instagram and Twitter:

Low water at Lake Shasta

Dead orange trees

It is difficult to see the drought's effects in cities.  Residents are told not to hose down driveways and to water lawns on alternate days.  Restaurant servers are cautioned not to bring glasses of water to tables unless specifically asked for them.  These actions have yielded minimal reductions in water use.

Agriculture uses much of California's water.  Farmers have been adjusting to the drought in several ways -- leaving some lands fallow, focusing scarce water on high-value crops and pulling much, much more water out of wells, which lowers groundwater levels.

California "is running down our bank account of stored water," said one of the authors of a report released recently by scientists at the University of California, Davis.

El Nino

Hopes were raised earlier this year when climatologists reported increasing odds for a weather phenomenon known as El Nino during the fall and winter, California's rainy season.  El Nino events result when warm waters in the Pacific Ocean and favorable jet streams join to drop greater than average amounts of rainfall during California's wet season.

Now the hope is waning.  The likelihood of an El Nino season now is set at 65 percent, and odds of a nourishing season of constant gully-washers are almost nil.  Even if El Nino rains arrive, California would need an historic level of rainfall to replenish the groundwater and reservoir levels it had four years ago.

"Unless we see a miraculous resurgence," one NASA scientist said recently, "any hope for El Nino soaking California is pretty much in the rear-view mirror."

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