Quantcast

California Experiences Worst Drought in 1,200 Years

Climate

While rain this week provided California with some relief from a long spell of high temperatures and dry weather, it scarcely made a dent in the state's multi-year drought. And they'll hardly be encouraged by a new study, which says the drought is the worst in the region in 1,200 years.

In the study published this week in the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters, researchers Daniel Griffin, University of Minnesota assistant professor and Climate & Global Change fellow of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Kevin J. Anchukaitis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute pointed to California's last three years of the worst drought conditions in a century, and asked "But how unusual is this event?

Scientist Kevin Anchukaitis measures tree rings to determine drought conditions going back over a millennium. Photo credit: Daniel Griffin

Extremely unusual, was the answer they arrived at, based on a study of blue oak tree growth rings in central and southern California, which Griffin called "as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get." The two scientists found 66 dry periods, with only three close to the current one—and none quite as severe. And they learned that 2014 was the worst drought year in the region in 1,200 years.

"There is no doubt that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems," said Anchukaitis in announcing the study.

"We demonstrate that while three-year periods of persistent below-average soil moisture are not uncommon, the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years," said the study. "Tree-ring chronologies extended through the 2014 growing season reveal that precipitation during the drought has been anomalously low but not outside the range of natural variability. The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures."

"We were genuinely surprised at the result," said Griffin. "This is California—drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras. This time, however, the result was different."

This week's U.S. Drought Monitor, out yesterday, showed that 99.7 percent of California of the state is still in one of its drought categories, with more than half the state still in the highest category "exceptionally drought." Since the results were based on rainfall through Tuesday, they did not take into account this week's rains.

"Despite respectable amounts of precipitation falling across the northern half of the state, no changes were rendered to the California drought depiction this week," the agency said. "Snowpack is just starting to form and is below what is normally expected for December 1, while reservoirs are just starting to receive more water than is being lost, which is later than would normally occur. December 1 marks the start of the wettest time of the year for California. Typically, about one-half of California’s annual precipitation is expected to fall during the December-February season. However, more than this is needed to offset the accumulated deficits. Finally, stream base flow levels in many areas are still low and indicative of a lack of groundwater response in watersheds so far this cold season. This suggests that groundwater reservoirs still require replenishment."

More than half of California is still under "exceptional drought." Image Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

"It's going to take a couple years of average or above-average rainfall so that we can not only fill our reservoirs, build our snowpack, but also recharge our groundwater basins," Bill Croyle of California Department of Water Resources told USA Today. "The ground is so dry, and the groundwater basins in those higher elevations have no water in them."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

NASA Satellite Images Reveal Shocking Groundwater Loss in Drought-Stricken California

How Drought-Stricken California Can Do More With Less Water

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit speaks at The World Economic Forum holds the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2018 in New York on Sept. 24, 2018. Ben Hider / World Economic Forum

By Howard LaFranchi

When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.

Read More Show Less
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan meets with Guatemalan farmers on May 29 in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. John Moore / Getty Images

The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Summer has officially come to an end. Luckily, EcoWatch is here to keep its memory alive by sharing the winners of our "Best of Summer" photo contest.

Read More Show Less
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference at UN headquarters on Sept. 18. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Today is the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a gathering called by UN Secretary General António Guterres to encourage climate action ahead of 2020, the year when countries are due to up their pledges under the Paris agreement.

Read More Show Less
A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less