California’s Endless Summer

CA Snow

Last week California declared a drought emergency. Amelia Urry catches us up:

In the past two weeks, the percentage of the state experiencing extreme drought conditions shot from 28 percent up to a vertigo-inducing 63 percent, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is at a perilously low 17 percent of its usual level this time of year [as seen above]. Since as much as 65 percent of Cali’s water comes from this virtual water cooler, and much of that goes toward the state’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, the effects of a catastrophic water shortage may be widely felt in the year to come.

Though droughts are not uncommon in the region’s Mediterranean climate, the pattern of the past few years points to a slow-mo climate crisis crashing into the West Coast. 2013 was California’s driest year on record, with about two thirds of the state experiencing severe water shortage and fire danger.

Christopher C. Burt details the agricultural impacts:

A major drought in California would have nation-wide implications.

California is the number one state in cash farm receipts with 11.3 percent of the U.S. total. The state accounts for 15 percent of national receipts for crops and 7.1 percent of the U.S. revenue for livestock and livestock products. California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. The state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, U.S. consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California. The state is also the nation’s largest agricultural exporter.

Chris Mooney examines the region’s fire potential:

Hotter, drier conditions favor wildfires. Indeed, California has already seen several significant fires since the October 31 end of the traditional fire season, including December’s Big Sur fire and the ongoing Colby Fire in the Los Angeles area. That’s a bad sign. So is the fact that in just the first 11 days of January, the state saw 154 fires that burned 598 acres. That’s way above the five-year average for this time of year.

For California, seven of the 10 largest fires in state history have occurred since the year 2000. And if these dry conditions persist throughout 2014, another new fire may be added to that list.

And the future looks drier and drier:

Over the longer term, climate projections suggest that this [drought] risk will continue or increase. According to the draft National Climate Assessment, the US Southwest—which includes California and five other states—can expect less precipitation, hotter temperatures, and drier soils in the future, meaning that by 2060, there could be as much as a 35-percent increase in water demand. Along with that comes a 25- to 50-percent increased risk of water shortages.

(Image: NOAA/NASA)