Thursday, January 29, 2015

Record California Drought Continues

New year, more of the same:
With just two days remaining in the month, no rain in the forecast, and a monster ridge of high pressure camped out overhead, San Francisco is now all but assured of its driest January in city history—exactly zero (that’s right, 0.00) inches have fallen so far. If the dearth of raindrops holds out, it will beat the record set last year, when just 0.01 inches fell at the airport. The long-term average rainfall in San Francisco in January is about 4.5 inches, with records dating continuously back to 1850. In the past, the city has received up to 14.5 inches in January (in 1916).
And it’s not just San Francisco. In most of northern and central California—the hardest hit regions of the state’s drought—rainfall in 2015 has been less than two percent of normal.
Any hopes the state had of finally turning the corner on its oppressive, possibly climate change–fueled megadrought have withered like the Sacramento River. Progress made in refilling the state’s largest reservoirs thanks to a series of major December storms has stalled, and key rainfall indices are back to being below normal. Snowpack in the Sierras, which supplies more than 60 percent of the state’s water resources, is down to a dismal 25 percent of normal. New data released by the National Drought Mitigation Center on Thursday showed 40 percent of the state is now classified as “exceptional drought,” the most severe category.
California was off-the-charts hot in 2014, shattering the previous statewide heat record by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like a lot, but until last year, the entire historical range for all years dating back to 1895 was only a bit over 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The distance separating the now second- and third-warmest years (1934 and 1996) is just one-tenth of 1 degree. The temperature so far in 2015 has been much above normal, as well.
As the drought plods along, the impact on sensitive industries like agriculture has continued to worsen. This winter, the California salmon industry was decimated by warmer-than-normal water in the state’s lakes and streams, reports Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee reports that the state is considering temporary dams on the vulnerable Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta in a desperate attempt to keep saltwater from encroaching inland into sensitive wetlands and the state’s drinking water supply. The delta sends water to about 25 million urban Californians and helps irrigate a vast section of the state’s agricultural production.
For now, California is the country’s leading dairy-producing state. That might change if the drought continues at this pace. Iowa Public Radio reports that there’s been an increasing exodus of dairy farmers from California to the Midwest, where supplies of grass and grain are more stable. With the specter of climate change, these kinds of stories hint at what could be a broader decline in the country’s leading agricultural state in coming years.
And even worse, we're getting set up for more dry weather out West, and more very cold weather in the East.  As for dairies moving from California to the Midwest, I would probably question whether it makes a lot of sense to keep the same overall milk production when a decent amount of that is exported.  Wouldn't the world be a little better off if we exported some of the dairy and grain genetic material and technology instead?  But most importantly, if we see another extremely dry year, things are going to get ugly for California agriculture.

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