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Escalating Drought in California

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California's drought has hit a new stage in bad. As of April 24th, the entire state, every square meter of it, is impacted by the drought. So far 25% of the state is in exceptional drought with an additional 50% in extreme drought, with a mere 5% experiencing milder moderate drought.

Image credit: Brian Kahn/ClimateCentral using data from NOAA/NCDC

While a substantial chunk of California has been abnormally dry since January 2013, in the past few months the drought has been getting more intense and more extensive. The annual rainy winter season was decidedly un-rainy, intensifying the drought. On January 28th, parts of the state edged into exceptional drought.


Image credit: Richard Heim/NOAA/NCDC

With the traditional rainy-season coming to a close without any relief, it looks like the golden hills of California are going to get even dryer. This increases the risk of fires and depletion of local water reserves in the long, hot summer.


This year might be an El Niño year, which sounds excellent except that after so much dry, that would probably trigger its own round of catastrophes. How? Water runs off too-dry land instead of infiltrating, increasing the risk of flash floods during epic downpours. Vegetation die-offs during the drought reduces the plants that stabilize slopes, increasing risk of landslide. Even worse, a single rainy season is unlikely to restore California's strained groundwater reserves.