While many places in the U.S. suffer from drought, no state is suffering more
than California. For three years, the nation’s most populace state has
been enduring one of the worst droughts since record-keeping started in 1885.
The long stretch of subnormal precipitation dates back to 2011. In 2012, the
drought had already reached historic proportions throughout the U.S. In 2013,
California experienced the driest year on record. As of the start of 2014,
nearly two thirds of the American West was suffering and most of California was in a state of extreme drought.
The period from December to March is supposed to be the region’s wet season,
but with the exception of some rain and snow in northern and central California
early in February, there was virtually no precipitation this year. Since the
start of the year, the situation has grown progressively worse. As of April,
drought plagued the entire state and in May the situation deteriorated further
still. Midway through 2014, the state is well on its way to recording the driest
year in about a century.
According to data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor at the end of July, all of California
was experiencing drought with 58 percent of the state suffering
from “exceptional drought.” As climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National
Drought Mitigation Center told the Los Angeles Times, “[California keeps] beating the records,
which are still all from this year.” He went on to explain that this is the
first time such dryness has ever been recorded in California since the federal
government started releasing drought reports in the 1990s. To make matters
worse, the absence of precipitation is being compounded by record
Currently, California’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and snow packs are well
below normal. Cities are having to enact water restrictions or water rationing
and farmers are struggling to find ways to cope with less water.
The extreme drought conditions prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to
declare a state of emergency in January. In August, wildfires associated with
the drought have forced the governor to declare yet another state of emergency.
nation’s food supply as the state supplies half of America’s fruits, nuts and
vegetables and nearly a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. Much of the
nation’s agricultural produce is grown in California, including produce
like tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives and figs.
Even the state’s wine
and beer producers are suffering.
being used by agriculture, the state is having trouble meeting the demand. In
February, California’s municipal water system announced that it would not be
able to supply water to some farmers. The situation has forced the
state’s farmers to leave about 800,000 acres idle this year.
supplies. Starting in 2011, drought forced huge numbers of ranchers to sell
their animals because they could not afford feedstock. This led to a glut of
meat in late 2012, which then led to a relative shortage in 2013.
costs of commodities. Losses attributable to the drought combined with
increasing consumer prices have negative economic implications for the state and
the nation’s economy.
This spring, Mike
Wade, the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said
that he expects on-farm production losses to double from $1.7 billion to an
estimated $3.56 billion. He cited the predictions of some market watchers who
said that they expect a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in consumer prices
this spring and summer.
According to a July report from the
University of California, Davis, the 2014 drought has cost California’s
economy $2.2 billion and resulted in the loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time
jobs related to agriculture. The study found that the drought is responsible for
the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture. The report further
indicated that the overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional
wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry.
The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that thus far, the cumulative
economic cost of the drought is $7.48 billion. The negative economic impacts are
far from over as the drought is expected to worsen as we go forward.
While it is widely understood that climate change causes droughts, scientists
are reluctant to make a link to individual extreme weather events. However,
conducted by climate scientist Simon Wang at Utah State University points to a
causal link between climate change and the ongoing drought in California. As
explained by Wang, “we found a good link and the link is becoming stronger and
Wang’s research confirms the findings in earlier
studies that relate droughts and climate change. Researchers like
climatologist James Hansen, co-authored one of the earliest studies on this
subject back in 1990 and a 2009 NOAA led paper came to the same conclusions.
Many others have added to the growing body of evidence. One of the more
interesting hypotheses involves the link between declining Arctic sea ice and
Overpeck, a leading drought expert at the University of Arizona, said that
what’s going on in the Southwest is what anthropogenic global warming looks
like. Like Overpeck, most climate scientists agree that the entire Southwest and
California in particular will continue to get hotter and drier.
The evidence suggests that climate change is making droughts more intense and
the research further predicts that this will only get worse. The situation in
California is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future. The University of
California, Davis report predicts that drought is likely to continue through
2015. According to Lynn
Ingram, a geography professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the
drought could persist for a decade or more.
Another study warned that the drought could last
for 60 years. This study predicts that the Southwest could see “an unprecedented
combination” of multi-decade droughts with even warmer temperatures. In a 2012
release, drought researcher Aiguo Dai, said, “The U.S. may never again
return to the relatively wet conditions experienced from 1977 to 1999.”
Not only is this drought likely to last it may get worse quicker that we
think. As Overpeck warned, “climate change seldom occurs gradually.”
Drought is not only a problem in California and the Southwestern U.S. In the
spring of this year about 38 percent of the United States were suffering from
some form of drought. As of July 31, almost all of the West, Southwest and
central parts of the U.S. were suffering from varying degrees of drought. In the
middle of 2014, drought conditions could be seen in many places around the
world, but they were particularly pronounced in Asia and Africa. In South
America, persistent drought was evident around the equator and in areas of
Drought is a global problem that is destined to intensify as the planet
warms. In the past century, we have warmed 1.5°F, if we continue with business
as usual, we may gain as much as 10°F
over the next century. As explained in a Climate
Central article, one third of the planet could soon be plagued by drought.
Increasing incidence of drought makes it less likely that we will be able to
provide enough food to feed the world. We can stop growing water-intensive crops
like cotton and rice, and we can adopt other solutions
to address the world water crisis. However, these efforts will not be enough
to offset the impacts of a world ravaged by runaway climate change.
The only way we can meaningfully reduce the severity of droughts in the long
term is by radically reducing the emissions that cause climate change.
Source: Global Warming is Real
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