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California’s Drought Just Got a Little Worse

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Just when it seemed like California’s drought couldn’t get any worse, it did: A staggering one third of the state is now in the worst stage of drought.

The latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday, showed the amount of the state in “Exceptional Drought” — the highest category — expanding to about 33 percent from 25 percent. The increase came not because of a lack of rainfall, as the state is in its dry season, but because drought experts and local officials are getting a better handle on the increased impacts that are emerging after three years of subpar precipitation.

As of June 17, 2014, the highest category of drought (Exceptional) covered one third of the state of California. The whole state was in some form of drought.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

“This drought in California is comparable to the drought that affected the state in the late 1970s,” Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with the National Climatic Data Center, told reporters Thursday in a teleconference.

With the dryness, the state expects to see an intensified wildfire season this year; in fact, several wildfires have already burned across parts of the state, even though the traditional wildfire season comes in the early fall. Meager snowpacks and rainfall have meant less water trickling into reservoirs just as summer amps up demand. Though most major cities haven’t yet seen an impact on water supplies, some smaller towns have seen their supplies drop, and farmers have had to let normally productive farmland fallow. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state in January and has asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent to avoid mandatory restrictions.

“The impacts of three consecutive years of dryness/drought are really beginning to manifest themselves, and that’s why you’re seeing this ‘delayed’ increase,” said Eric Luebehusen, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the author of this week’s Drought Monitor report.

California has seen three consecutive winters, traditionally the rainy season, come up relatively dry. In particular, 2013 was the driest year on record in parts of the state, with some places running precipitation deficits of 30 to 40 inches. As of May 15 of this year, 100 percent of the state was in the highest three categories of drought.

While the drought can’t be directly linked to climate change, experts have said the unabated warming of the planet will influence the development of drought in places like California in the future.

Water supplies in California’s reservoirs, which are built to factor in drought years, were at fairly good levels going into last winter, but the heat of the subsequent dry season sent demand for water soaring and reservoir levels declined.

Currently, reservoirs in the state are at anywhere from 14 to 67 percent of capacity, according to the most recent numbers from the California Department of Water Resources, which run through May 31. Precipitation amounts from July 1, 2013, to June 1, 2014, range from 35 percent of normal in Los Angeles to 53 percent in San Francisco and Sacramento.

Luebehusen called the precipitation totals in the north of the state “abysmal” and said that local officials were getting word of greater impacts further east and south. It was this more complete picture that prompted him to move some areas in North and Central California that had been in D3, or “Extreme,” drought into D4, or “Exceptional,” drought he said.

“It’s really just us getting a firmer handle on how bad the situation has become as the third year of drought continues,” Luebehusen told Climate Central in an email.

California officials are hoping that an emerging El Niño event will turn out to be a strong one, as those tend to be associated with increased precipitation in the region. Because the drought has been several years in the making, even with a boost from an El Niño, it will take several years to undo, experts have said. And for the next few months it won’t be going anywhere.

In fact, the situation could still worsen as the impacts of the drought increase and water becomes even harder to come by in some areas. Luebehusen said the evaluation of the impacts to the San Joaquin Valley, a major agricultural area, and its surroundings are still ongoing and that some of the satellite readings “are looking dreadful from (San Francisco) south toward Santa Barbara and then across much of (Southern) CA.”

“I don’t think we’re done,” he said.

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Comments

By scas (Victoria)
on June 20th, 2014

Why say the drought can’t directly be linked to climate change? It obviously is linked. Every weather event, even the normal weather, is linked to climate change, because we live in a climate changed world with 0.8 C anomaly.

Reply to this comment

By Jan
on June 20th, 2014

“While the drought can’t be directly linked to climate change”

Why can’t it? This is why we continue to see a chokehold on energy by Big Oil- because “experts” are still too afraid to tell us the truth and take the cowardly way out.

Reply to this comment

By Alan (Arlington Heights, IL. 60005)
on June 22nd, 2014

“Can’t be directly linked to climate change” may be a responsible thing to say when reporting on these issues but it’s irresponsible (and immoral) skeptics and deniers that use this to their own advantage. STOP giving them fuel to feed their fire….push back, our future depends on it!!!!

Reply to this comment

By Ben RUDOLPH (Claremont, CA 91711)
on June 29th, 2014

Good Evening,
Suggestion from a layman for consideration:
1 - CA Citizen call for 20% reduction met with equal increase in drought reserve demand from CA DWR.
2 - Yearly census on state tax forms, to be used internally by CA; using census data from one hour to one decade outdated, is asinine. We fill out the federal one when required, but there is no prohibition against a yearly instate census. Japan does it every year on their tax forms, hence the idea.
3 - A state of emergency pegs restriction as “new normal”; i.e. as soon as it rains, enough dumb-wits are going to refill their swimming pool, that we will be in the exact situation again. We don’t have the “option” of using the water-saver option, it should be mandatory on all equipment by default sold, made, imported to CA; what we don’t have is the water-Waster option. WTF is the water going to come from? Condition Yellow should became the new Condition Green. Condition Red becomes the “new Yellow”, recompute for new Condition Red (AKA evolution through adaptating to prevailing environmental concerns!). Had we conserved at the new 20% reduction a decade ago, we wouldn’t be in a peak water problem now… that was 2004, not 1994; we had the tech and Cal-State/UC sense then too.
4 - Water tax with fee-and-rebate, under Pareto Law analysis. The worst user in the city, audited by city. Water tax amt given back upon receipt proof of compliance. Raw audit data coming from water company directly. Most importantly, gov’t not exempt. I’m having 1/wk showers as it is, frak those who think it should be an averaged so that we the people have 1/mth showers. This socalising of debt, but kleptocract of wealth and blatant waste thing has to stop.
5 - #4 will conserve what we have in the rain-barrel currently, a carbon tax with fee-and-rebate will help bring us back to historical normal. At least our kids won’t spit on our ashes and say “you could have, you SHOULD have, but didn’t due to some pedant cost-benefit analysis where the 9 on the board mattered more than the 7 billion alive at the time, and the innumerable not yet born”. Again, gov’t not exempt, and done via automatic penny/gal/year increase, rebates ourselves to highest MPG vehicle in class, sans American protectionism. penny/gal/4year (every four years) increase for CA grown biofuel. Only way the big 3 will get into the 21st century is to compete conceptually and economically with the other 275 countries on earth. I’m not saying they aren’t, I’m suggesting they aren’t doing it enough. I’m not degenerate, sickly, corrosive, ergo, the “need” for a private plane is maniacal and would have been better spent on R & D.

Nowhere to run, on a burning, apoxia, ocean-rising spheroid planet. Cthulhu for UN President?
Sweatingly,
Mr. RUDOLPH,
CA

Reply to this comment

By mark harris (tallassee / alabama /36078)
on July 6th, 2014

Hi andrea ” i just wanted to comment here an say yes ” climate change is real but not like it has been sold ti everyone by different sources ” including the media ” we have spring ” summer ” fall ” an winter ” aka ” climate change ” no ” I’m not tryin to be a smart butt or a denier ” notice that word ” denier is always used when someone is not on the bandwagon for the all scientifically ” believe what you’re told an don’t ask questions community ” lets be real here ok ” countries around the world pollute the earth an the usa companies are not guiltless here either ” its not all this so called clean coal an other great ideas that’s the solution to this all ” if your cookies are missing ” find out who has their hand in the jar ! ! Al -Gore whas a video. an inconvenient truth ” an sat on the ellen show an said notice the skies are not blue very much anymore ! ! Enter David keith ” cobert show talks about spraying tons of aluminium into the stratosphere to help stop global warming ” its called ’ solar radiation management ” they claim their NOT doing this ” yet ” watch the video ” what in the world are they spraying ? Alabama an Georgia got SNOW An the Great lakes FROZE OVER an Minnesota’s flooding out an Oklahoma is rolling in earthquakes umm fracking maybe ? ? People need a more open mind an a cool temper an let the truth be the truth regardless of what it is ! Geoengineering.com weather modification ” owning the weather by 2025 ” an what else ? Peace everyone !

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