NewsApril 25, 2014

The Explosive Growth of California's Drought in 1 Chart

Brian Kahn

By Brian Kahn

Follow @blkahn

It didn’t seem possible, but California's drought just got worse. On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor released new data that show every single inch of the state is now experiencing some form of drought.

Since mid-March, a sliver of California on its southeastern border was the lone drought holdout for the state. Even then, that section of the state was still considered abnormally dry according to the Drought Monitor. The section finally tipped into drought this week, and for the first time in 15 year-history of the Drought Monitor, the entire state is now in drought.

Data source: U.S. Drought Monitor


The growth of the drought is clearly on display in the graphic above. While some form of drought covered much of the state through 2013, this winter led to an explosion of drought across the entire state. Extreme drought covered roughly a quarter of the state in early January 2014. But by mid-January, the percentage of the state in extreme drought jumped to nearly 65 percent as winter rains and snows failed to materialize and hot weather baked the state.RELATEDWhy California’s Drought Isn’t Going Anywhere
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Exceptional drought, the most dire drought category, first appeared in the January 28 iteration of the monitor. Since then it has swallowed up nearly a quarter of the state including the Central Valley, a prime growing region in the state. Overall, nearly a quarter of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought, the most dire drought category.

A persistent blocking ridge of high pressure is what kept California hot and dry all winter, which is typically the state’s wet season. What little snow that fell in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which acts as a natural reservoir through spring, declined precipitously in the past 10 days and could create further drought woes for the state. Melting snow can also contribute to tumultuous wildfire seasons by drying out the ground and vegetation that can feed blazes. That’s a daunting prospect for Californian’s and visitors to Yosemite National Park with last year’s Rim Fire still fresh on their minds.

Though parts of the state are receiving rain and snow on Friday, it’s unlikely to dent the drought. And with the rainy season basically done until late fall, the prospects for relief are scarce. That means drought conditions are likely to persist or could even worsen through the summer.

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