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California’s Dwindling Snowpack: Another Year of Drought, Floods, Wildfires and Mudslides?
By Jeremy Deaton
California is likely facing another year of water woes. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies up to a third of California's water, is exceptionally meager this year. Experts found around half as much snow on the mountains as they typically would in early April, when the snowpack is historically most voluminous.
Not only does the dwindling snowpack put California's water supply at risk, it also portends more floods, wildfires and mudslides over the coming year. This is precisely what makes climate change so dangerous. Even small changes in weather can have cascading effects, multiplying the risk of natural disaster.
Declining snowfall means less fresh water.
Climate change is depriving California of needed precipitation, and it is also causing more precipitation to come down as rain instead of snow. The result is that, over time, the Sierra Nevada see less and less snow, with consequences for the Golden State. Every spring and summer, that snow melts, feeding the streams and rivers that supply California's reservoirs. Less snow means less water for farms and cities. Making matters worse, warmer temperatures mean that snow melts in late spring and early summer, leading to shortages later in the year.
When more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, it can lead to flash floods.
More abundant rainfall can lead to flash flooding, as large volumes of water runoff feeds into streams and rivers, causing them to overflow. In February, 2017, for example, heavy rainfall caused the San Joaquin River to spill over, leading hundreds of people to evacuate. The San Joaquin River originates in the high Sierra, which is seeing more precipitation come down as rain instead of snow in the winter months.
Diminished snowpack drives up the risk of wildfires.
The Sierra Nevada is harboring less snow, and that snow is melting faster, which is leaving the mountains without water during the warmer months. Hot weather and dry conditions up the risk of wildfire. The Sierra Nevadas have seen more and more wildfires in recent years. An October 2017 wildfire in the Sierra Nevada foothills, for example, killed four people and displaced thousands more.
California's wildfires are growing more ferocious over time.Climate Signals
Wildfires lead to mudslides.
The roots of trees and shrubs hold soil in place. When wildfires burn up alpine vegetation, the roots needed to retain that soil shrivel up. Then, when rain returns in the winter, it will carry loose soil down the mountain in mudslides. A series of February 2017 rainstorms produced mudslides along the Sierra Nevada, closing highways and, in a few cases, carrying cars off the road.
Workers deal with the aftermath of February 2017 mudslides. Caltrans
Blame it on climate change.
The root cause of all this mayhem is climate change. Carbon pollution is trapping heat, which is cooking the planet. Warmer water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are giving rise to atmospheric rivers that deliver rain—instead of snow—to the Sierra Nevada. Heavy rainfall threatens to melt what little snow gathers on the slopes. This has consequences for the entire state, as reduced snowpack fuels drought more broadly, yielding wildfires and mudslides in coastal areas as well as in the mountains.
In a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, UCLA climate scientist Alex Hall and science communicator Katharine Davis Reich warned, "In simple terms: We're going to lose a lot of snow to climate change. Equally worrisome, California's water infrastructure is not resilient enough to make up for the loss."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
You've probably heard the buzz around collagen supplements and your skin by now. But is the hype really that promising? After all, research has pointed to both the benefits and downsides of collagen supplements — and for many beauty-conscious folk, collagen isn't vegan.
By Marlene Cimons
Neil Pederson's introduction to tree rings came from a "sweet and kindly" college instructor, who nevertheless was "one of the most boring professors I'd ever experienced," Pederson said. "I swore tree rings off then and there." But they kept coming back to haunt him.
By Daisy Brickhill
Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.
By Sam Nickerson
Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.
The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.
Tyson Foods Recalls Nearly 70,000 Pounds of Chicken Strips After Customers Find ‘Fragments of Metal’
Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.
"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."
Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.