California’s Record Breaking Drought





Dec-Feb 2014-2015 was California’s warmest winter on record by a wide margin. (NOAA/NCDC)

Weather West blog April 1, 2015

“In the meantime, there will be an official announcement later this afternoon that Sierra Nevada snowpack this year reached astonishingly low values–blowing past previous all-time record lows by a margin of at least 200-300%. Snowmelt runoff this year is projected to be near-zero — a first in California history.


Also… California’s record-warmest winter: Yet, despite all of this wild weather, the real headline in California continues to be the exceptionally warm conditions that have persisted now for well over a year. December-February 2014-2015 was officially California’s warmest winter on record by a wide margin. February 2015 was California’s singularly warmest February on record. All of this, of course, falls on the heels of the 2014 calendar year–which was California’s warmest calendar year (and 12-month period) on record. While I realize this is all starting to sound like a broken record, that’s precisely why it bears repeating: California (and most of its geographic subregions) have been breaking high temperature records almost continuously for most of the past two years. Even in an era of long-term global (and regional) warming, recent temperature trends in California have been extraordinary. I’ll have a more detailed post in the near future on the role of these extremely warm temperatures in worsening California’s ongoing extreme drought (and an increasing the risk of future droughts), but for now I’ll leave it at this: spring has already sprung in California, and winter never really showed up in the first place.


Lastly, Record Warmth in West from today’s news:

“Last Thursday brought the year’s first triple-digit temperature reading anywhere in the country when Death Valley, California, logged an official high of 101 degrees. Death Valley topped out a degree higher at 102 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the high was 103 degrees, which ties the all-time record high there for the month of March. Then on Tuesday, Death Valley reached 104 degrees setting a new record for all-time March high temperature.”

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California drought: Sierra Nevada snowpack hits historic low

By Peter Fimrite Updated 6:32 am, Saturday, March 28, 2015

The abominable snowpack in the Sierra Nevada reached an unprecedented low this week, dipping below the historic lows in 1977 and 2014 for the driest winter in 65 years of record-keeping.
Electronic surveys show the water content of the snow throughout the Sierra is a shocking 8 percent of the historical average for this time of year, by far the driest it has been since 1950, the year record-keeping began, because of the lack of rain and snowfall and the exceedingly high temperatures. It is a troubling milestone that water resources officials say is bound to get even lower as the skies remain stubbornly blue. “It’s certainly sobering when you consider that the snowpack in a normal year provides about 30 percent of what California needs in the summer and fall,” said Doug Carlson, the spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “What this suggests is that we will have very little water running off. It accentuates the severity of the drought and emphasizes the importance of people cutting back on their water use.” The department is planning to conduct its monthly snow survey on April 1, the date water resources officials use as a benchmark because it is when the snowpack normally begins to melt and fill up the state’s reservoirs. Meteorologists see nothing on the horizon that could pull the state out of its increasingly frightful drought.



A boat paddle is shown on the bottom of the nearly dry Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California January 21, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

California governor orders 25 percent reduction in water usage statewide

PHILLIPS, Calif. | By Sharon Bernstein Wed Apr 1, 2015 7:03pm EDT (Reuters) – California Governor Jerry Brown, acting in the face of a devastating multiyear drought, ordered the first statewide mandatory water restrictions on Wednesday, directing cities and communities to reduce usage by 25 percent. The cutbacks, to be implemented by state and local water agencies, will affect consumers and businesses throughout the most populous U.S. state, but farmers, who are already making do with less water for irrigation, will be exempt. “We’re standing on dry ground and we should be standing on five feet (1.5 metres) of snow,” Brown said at a state snow monitoring station in the Sierra Nevada community of Phillips near Lake Tahoe, where dry grass lay limp on the ground.   “This is rationing,” said Brown, a four-term Democrat whose two non-consecutive stints in office have coincided with two of the state’s worst droughts on record. “We’re just doing it through the different water districts.” The governor said the move, which comes as California reports its lowest snowpack levels on record, would save some 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months. Brown said he was ordering that 50 million square feet (4.6 million square metres) of lawns across the state be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping and the creation of a consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with newer, more water-efficient models. Different parts of the state will have to reduce their water use more than others, because some have already cut way back, Brown said. Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board, said regulators would not hesitate to issue fines of up to $10,000 per day to water districts that do not succeed in implementing the cutbacks. Many of the rules are still being developed, Marcus said, but among those already contained in the governor’s order are a ban on lawns in new housing unless drip or microspray systems are in place. Commercial, industrial and institutional property owners such as businesses and golf courses will be required to cut their own use of potable water for lawns by 25 percent, according to the governor’s order. He also ordered the agencies that supply the state’s vast agricultural sector with water for irrigation to develop detailed plans for managing water during the drought. Farmers will not be held to the 25 percent reduction, officials said, citing the toll the drought has already taken on their supplies of water for irrigation. Farmers have been deeply affected by the state’s moves to release less water than usual from reservoirs during the last three years of drought, as well as on-and-off restrictions on pumping from rivers and creeks.

Farmers were forced to fallow thousands of acres of cropland last year amid high prices for water and a reduction in the amount they were allowed to buy from state and federal water projects in the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Farmers are expected to fallow hundreds of thousands of additional acres this year, and pull out trees and vineyards that are irrigation-dependent, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross said in a conference call. Brown signed emergency legislation last week that fast-tracks over $1 billion in funding for drought relief and water infrastructure within the parched state. The proposed legislation would appropriate voter-approved bond funds to speed up water projects and programs and provide aid to struggling California cities and communities. Earlier in March, the Water Resources Control Board imposed new drought regulations, outlawing lawn watering within 48 hours of rain and prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless a customer requests it. In California, the drought lingers despite storms that brought some respite in December and February. The storms helped fill some of the state’s reservoirs higher than they were at this time last year, but most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.



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