California needs rain, and they need it bad. How bad? Just have a look at the GIF above. The first image shows Folsom Lake near Sacramento on July 20, 2011. The second image shows Folsom Lake on January 16, 2014. Notice a difference?
That's what a drought of historic proportions looks like. In fact, 2013 was the driest year California has seen in 119 years, and that's causing some obvious problems. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last month, and farmers are scrambling to figure out clever ways to save their crops. California's municipal water system has even announced that it can't get water to farmers, which is particularly bad news in the state that supplies over half of America's fruits and vegetables (and almonds). Even the president's now involved. This month, Obama pledged $183 million in federal funds for drought relief programs.
NASA is also on the case. The space agency recently helped the world visualize the problem with a striking set of satellite images showing the withering effect the drought has had on California. NASA also supplied the images of Folsom Lake, explaining how the reservoir was at 97 percent capacity two-and-a-half years ago and just 17 percent capacity in January! NASA will continue to monitor the situation by measuring how much water is in snowpack and how much light that snow absorbs. That should help them estimate how much water the state will get from snowmelt.
Aside from figuring out ways to deal with the consequences, there's unfortunately not too much anybody can do about this drought in the near term. Of course, we'll want to keep having that endless conversation about the causes and effects of global warming. We can also just continue staring at that photo of the reservoir. It looks like somebody just pulled out the stopper and let all the water run out. [NASA via Atlantic Cities]