California Drought: “Unprecedented”

January 14, 2014

Emerging story.

Remember how the climate deniers went after Stephen Chu, Obama’s first Energy Secretary, when Chu described Climate Change’s threat to California agriculture? Given the importance of California agriculture in supplying the fruits and vegetables that Americans have come to expect all winter long, the current drought is something that could have significant impact on American’s pocket books.

2009 story from the LATimes:

Chu warned of water shortages plaguing the West and Upper Midwest and particularly dire consequences for California, his home state, the nation’s leading agricultural producer.

In a worst case, Chu said, up to 90% of the Sierra snowpack could disappear, all but eliminating a natural storage system for water vital to agriculture.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” he said. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” And, he added, “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going” either.

A pair of recent studies raise similar warnings. One, published in January in the journal Science, raised the specter of worldwide crop shortages as temperatures rise. Another, penned by UC Berkeley researchers last year, estimated California has about $2.5 trillion in real estate assets — including agriculture — endangered by warming.

San Jose Mercury News:

As California struggles through a run of historically dry weather, most residents are looking at falling reservoir levels, dusty air and thirsty lawns.

But meteorologists have fixed their attention on the scientific phenomenon they say is to blame for the emerging drought: a vast zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast, nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, so stubborn that one researcher has dubbed it the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”

Like a brick wall, the mass of high pressure air has been blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore in California, deflecting them up into Alaska and British Columbia, even delivering rain and cold weather to the East Coast. Similar high-pressure zones pop up all the time during most winters, but they usually break down, allowing rain to get through to California. This one, ominously, has anchored itself for 13 months, since December 2012, making it unprecedented in modern weather records and leaving researchers scratching their heads.

“It’s like the Sierra — a mountain range just sitting off the West Coast — only bigger,” said Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey. “This ridge is sort of a mountain in the atmosphere. In most years, it comes and goes. This year it came and didn’t go.”

The current high-pressure ridge is even stronger and more persistent than a similar ridge that parked over the Pacific Ocean during the 1976-77 drought, one of the driest in the 20th century.

Scientists know that changes in temperature cause high- and low-pressure zones around the world. In many ways, air works like water. The deeper you swim in the ocean, the stronger the water pressure, because the weight of the water above is pressing down on the water below. Air in the atmosphere also has weight, and as temperatures of the ocean and land fluctuate, the atmospheric pressure also changes, helping drive much of our weather.

What researchers don’t know, however, is why the current high-pressure ridge is so persistent, or when it is going away, allowing California to enjoy some much-needed rain. A few scientists say that it may be related to climate change, but nobody knows for sure.

“I wish I had a really good answer for this,” said Daniel Cayan, an oceanographer and atmospheric scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. “It’s unusual for the pattern to have not broken down to allow some relatively active, vigorous winter storm systems to track across California.”

With each passing week, California’s lack of rainfall becomes more serious.

Last year was the driest calendar year in recorded history in California in most cities, with records going back 160 years. The first snowpack reading in the Sierra Nevada earlier this month found a snowpack of just 20 percent of normal.

Meanwhile, major reservoirs in Shasta and Oroville are each 36 percent full, about half of normal for this time of year. San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos is 30 percent full, 42 percent of normal. Major Bay Area water agencies haven’t yet called for mandatory summer water restrictions but are expected to make the decision in the next month or two, depending largely on whether the high-pressure ridge breaks down and rain falls.

State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin told members of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento a week ago that his agency is likely to recommend that Gov. Jerry Brown declare a drought by Feb. 1, which would make it easier for water transfers between agencies and for emergency loans and other assistance.

On Monday at a news conference in Fresno, Brown told reporters, “It’s coming. Just be patient.”

Still, he said last week: “Governors can’t make it rain.”

Since July 1, San Francisco has received 2.1 inches of rain — just 20 percent of normal; San Jose has received 1.57 inches, or 26 percent of normal; and Oakland has received 2.08 inches, or 22 percent of normal.

All is not lost. Experts note that California still has another two or three months left in its winter season.

 

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38 Responses to “California Drought: “Unprecedented””

  1. MorinMoss Says:

    “Governors can’t make it rain”? Has anyone told Rick Perry?
    Clearly, CA desperately needs a Response.

    • daveburton Says:

      Eye-popping article here:

      http://westernfarmpress.com/blog/californians-lose-800000-acre-feet-water-305-minnows

      Here’s an excerpt:

      This is not a drought year. The meager allotment is the result of too much water.

      Heavy rains in November and December created a water flush through the Delta, herding the threatened Delta smelt/minnow south, closer to water pumps that move water from the Delta to the San Luis Reservoir, a storage terminal near Los Banos, Calif., that collects state and federal project water for movement south to urban Californians and San Joaquin Valley farmers. To protect the endangered minnows, the pumps were periodically stopped through the winter. No pumps; no water south. Just water west into the ocean.

      The ridiculous environmental rules protecting the Delta minnow say the pumps can only gobble up 305 of the minnows in a water year, which ends Sept. 30. The count is already 232 — more than 75 percent of the limit. So to make sure pumps supply water to 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland consumes no more than four minnow buckets full of smelt — 800,000 acre-feet of water is gone.

      Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition points out, “Despite the heavy rain and snowfall earlier this water year in December, farmers will be receiving less water than last year, which was a dry water year.”

      • daveburton Says:

        (Note, though, that the article is one year old.)

        • greenman3610 Says:

          I note that didn’t stop you from posting it as if it were relevant.
          Btw, I am waiting for your apology. Don’t take too long.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Has Dave ever apologized?

            Is he smart enough to know when he should do so?

          • daveburton Says:

            Let’s see, the note was accurate, the article was interesting, and I posted a postscript to make sure that nobody was confused about that date, even though the opening sentence (“This is not a drought year”) should have ensured that nobody would think it was about this year, which everyone knows (or should know) is a drought year.

            So you think I should apologize for… what?

            For “soaking up” California water by eating their vegetables?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Dave is pathetically clueless as usual.

          • daveburton Says:

            ForgetfulOldGuy asks, “Has Dave ever apologized?”

            Yes, when I make a mistake I apologize, as you’ve seen.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Says Dave—–“ForgetfulOldGuy asks, “Has Dave ever apologized?”;
            Yes, when I make a mistake I apologize, as you’ve seen”.

            That’s funny, Dave. You “apologized” for making TWO TYPOS? LOL

            I think the apology we are all waiting for has more to do with the unremitting insults you deliver to our individual and collective intelligence with your comments on Crock.

            I speak of all the distraction, obfuscation, misinformation, fractured science and outright lies you spew (what I generically refer to as “horsepucky”), as well as your refusal to ever really answer the MANY questions that have been put to you.

            I myself am waiting for an “apology” from you for your refusal to answer my question about the volume of sea water being measured in meters—-is it forthcoming?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        “I’m Back” says daveburton in his best Jack Nicholson Shining imitation—he’s certainly demented enough to qualify.

        Eye-popping article? Not to me, since I’ve seen a lot of whining by farmers over the years about things that keep them from destroying habitats and causing extinctions. Poor babies, they won’t be able to get rich by exporting CA’s water to other places by “soaking it up” in vegetables (or alfalfa that they bale and send to CHINA).

        Of course, Dave is a CONSERVATIVE, which means that extinctions and environmental destruction are 100% OK with him, as long as someone makes a buck off them. Externalities be damned!

        • daveburton Says:

          So, old guy, you don’t like farmers because they “whine,” and they destroy habitats and cause extinctions, and they try to get rich by soaking up water with their vegetable and alfalfa crops.

          And do you not like to eat, either?

          And do you think species & subspecies extinctions are always a very bad thing?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Good old Dave. He must be feeling a little “testy” tonight. He’s not really up to a good exchange at this late hour, because all this is juvenile—-kind of “your mother wears combat boots” stuff.

            Never said I don’t like farmers or don’t like to eat, Dave. Sorry looking straw man you’re trying to build there.

            Dave is desperate to land some blows, so he mindlessly asks “And do you think species & subspecies extinctions are always a very bad thing?”

            I will first answer that question with a question for Dave. “Do YOU think species & subspecies extinctions are always a GOOD thing?”

            And I wonder about the “very” in Dave’s question—-wouldn’t it be enough to just say “bad”? And what’s with the emphasis on “subspecies”, although I think I know his game there. Does Dave also realize that all this talk about extinction, species, and sub-species makes it sound as if he believes in evolution? Do you, Dave? ‘Fess up!

            To really answer Dave, I think that any extinctions that occur “naturally” are a good thing. Nature and natural selection at work. I think that any extinctions that occur because of man’s intrusion on natural processes are a bad thing. The Sixth Mass Extinction that we are experiencing tight now is a VERY BAD thing because it does appear to be man-caused. Remember, Nature bats last.

  2. stephengn1 Says:

    California – Dana Rohrabacher land

    Get him out of an office he does not deserve…

  3. Sandy Porter Says:

    When reading up on the polar vortex, they also covered the Jet Stream and the air north and south of it. As the Arctic warms (a big part of which is melting sea ice which exposes more Arctic Ocean – the water temp hovers close to freezing, but temps on the ice or land would be much colder than the water), the temp difference between the Arctic and the areas south of it is less than it used to be. This makes the Jet Stream slower, less powerful, more likely to meander AND more likely to make weather effects last longer; to get ‘stuck.’ With a lot of kinds of weather, the thing that makes it so destructive is the longer time that it remains in one place.


  4. Jay Lund is the Ray B. Krone Professor of Environmental Engineering at UC Davis and director of the university’s Center for Watershed Sciences.:

    (http://californiawaterblog.com/2013/01/13/climate-change-and-california-water-past-present-and-future/) Key conclusions (deliberately I changed the order of) :

    “California is prone to massive climate change. In medieval times, parts of California experienced extreme droughts lasting more than 100 years (Stine 1994).”

    “With a changing climate it will take decades to make good statistical estimates, even of changes in annual average precipitation and streamflow (Klemes 2000).”

    “Climate warming will reduce seasonal snowpack, but with some changes in reservoir management, existing large reservoirs on most of California’s rivers can largely accommodate seasonal shifts in runoff (Connell-Buck et al. 2011).”

    “Climate warming will be somewhat costly, but not catastrophic for most conventional water storage operations (Willis et al. 2010; Madani and Lund 2010).”

    “The physical, economic and ecological instability of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta probably poses more risk to California’s water supply than climate warming (Lund et al. 2010).”

    “Climate change introduces uncertainties, but California water management has always involved immense uncertainties. Effective water management adaptations to climate change emerge from comprehensive analysis of water markets, conjunctive use of ground and surface waters, water conservation, and from re-operation of some reservoirs (Harou et al. 2010; Tanaka et al. 2006; Medellin et al. 2008; Hanak and Lund 2011; Ragatz 2012).”

    “Climate change is just one more big driver – and may not be the biggest one (Vörösmarty 2000).”

    “Talk of climate change and water in California is fraught with handwringing and delusions. Much discussion borders on alarmist …”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Ah ,yes. Another dishonest denier appears. Our friend with the too long name has cherry picked titles of papers and sentences from the blog article by Lund and uses them in a misleading way to imply support for the “But-But” arguments of the deniers. Lund would likely be quite upset by this distortion and misuse of his work, particularly with the fact that his “observations” have now been converted into “key conclusions”. This comment is pure horsepucky thrown against the wall, and only a fool would think it will stick.

      We must never forget that we have witnessed an unprecedented HUMAN-CAUSED rise in CO2 levels, which has led to an unprecedented rise in temperature, which has led to many weather and climate anomalies in California. Lund realizes that, and his work pertaining to water resources should not be misused by a denier that just cruises the web looking for things he THINKS show AGW denial. .


      • Nobody ever responded to him before. Name is unpronounceable. No comments, all quotes. Leaves me with the question, so what’s your point? What I said to deniers before. State your point clearly. Otherwise it’s just…nothing. A bunch of quotes. With no citations. You can get that from a shredded newspaper.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          His name is not unpronounceable if you’re from NJ, as I am, just confusing. First, realize that this apparent longtime crackpot-denier has taken to running his first and last names together and putting his last name first. He is really Arkadiusz Semczyszak, which is generally pronounced ARE-KADY-OOSE SEM-SIS-ACK or SEM-CHIS-ACK.

          I think he may be hiding from his past history by fudging his name around here. If you google his name in proper order along with “skeptical science”, you will find an old article that he has made a (stupid) comment on, and—–wait for it—–right above his comment is one by none other than OMNOLOGOS! Small world, isn’t it? (And O-Log’s comment wasn’t too bright either).


          • It was a snide comment about the blog name. We have no shorter nickname yet. I actually can pronounce it, but I could easily imagine others might not and spelling, well that could be an issue. Probably semi might be a short nickname. So far, I have seen no comments responding. He seemed like a troll, but his entries were devoid of comment, leaving little to reply. Its like being served water for your main entree.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            He’s a troll, all right.

            How about Semi-luzyd or Semi-inczayne for a nickname?

          • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

            It’s a Hungarian name (sz is a giveaway), and they always use last names first.
            Én tudom, mert folyékonyan beszélek magyarul! 🙂

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Thanks for that info—I “speak English fluently” and recognize a few things in other languages, but not Hungarian. In googling him, he did make reference to Poland in his comments in such a way that made me think he was Polish. Could he be a Pole of Hungarian descent?

            (I still think he’s trying to hide from us)

        • ontspan Says:

          Arkadiusz has posted here for years sporadically and receives comments now and then, like I did in the past. Most of the time his comments are too weird to require response, but sometimes it’s usefull to respond. He also comments now and then on SkepticalScience.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            This showed as a new comment—-should be here.

            Thanks for the intel—I’m comparatively new to Crock.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      PS I forgot to ask for attribution on the ending quote:

      “Talk of climate change and water in California is fraught with handwringing and delusions. Much discussion borders on alarmist …”

      Who said that, too-long-name? Lund? Source. please?

      • saphirehope Says:

        It really was taken out of order, I found that last quote at the start of Lund’s blog entry

        http://californiawaterblog.com/2013/01/13/climate-change-and-california-water-past-present-and-future/

        By Jay R. Lund

        Talk of climate change and water in California is fraught with handwringing and delusions. Much discussion borders on alarmist or seems to presume magical abilities to precisely plan and prepare for a future climate.

        Here are some observations – based on climate statistics and the physics, economics and history of water in California – that may put some concerns in perspective:

        But reading the complete quote puts quite a different slant on it. To me it appears Lund’s point is treating the last 100 years or so as the baseline is what’s incorrect, and that there were not uncommon large droughts in the past.

        Putting Lund’s points in the order they appear shows how he is totally aware of Climate change and it’s impacts:

        1. Californians have experienced abrupt climate change before
        2. Climate change is not the only game-changer.
        3. We will not know the extent of climate change until long after the change has occurred.
        4. Climate change is now.

        In the last 50 years, California has seen a shifting share of runoff from the spring to the winter (Aguado et al. 1992). Also, sea level has risen about 1 foot in the last 100 years. Both trends are consistent with climate warming.

        5. California is prone to massive climate change.
        6. Expanding reservoirs is not necessarily useful for climate change.

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    Yes, Lund is NOT a denialist—he is a hydrologist who is concerned with managing California’s soon-to-be-critical water resources problem, and you recognize that.

    “Talk of climate change and water in California is fraught with handwringing and delusions. Much discussion borders on alarmist or seems to presume magical abilities to precisely plan and prepare for a future climate” is only an illustration of his attempt to be “fair and balanced”, even-handed, and warn against quick answers. Too-long-name has distorted Lund’s position. Reread the quote several times and that will become even more apparent.


    • He is also hinting that California is mostly reclaimed desert supported by man made infrastructure and subject to a multitude of potential failures. Worse. A huge population with all it’s demands has been dumped on top of it. Kind of harkens back to an era when LA basin smog was a regular issue, for example. Kind of like A much milder Beijing. Which brings us right back to mans exponential growth and the cycle of limits to growth. AGW is just one of many, albeit a more inescapable one.

      • daveburton Says:

        Christopher Arcus says, “…mans exponential growth…”

        You mean this?

        That’s about as “exponential” as the rate of sea-level rise.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Lord love a duck but Dave is one sneaky and slimy individual. He chooses to ignore the thrust of Chris A’s comment, which was:

          “California is mostly reclaimed desert….A huge population with all its demands has been dumped on top of it…..Which brings us right back to mans exponential growth and the cycle of limits to growth”

          Dave plucks out only “…mans exponential growth…”, then asks, “You mean THIS?”, and links to a graph that shows the rate of WORLD population increase. (Dave is fixated with changes in RATE and EXTENT rather than what really matters, the total change that occurs, whether it be human population, sea ice, or sea level).

          I suspect that Dave has again just “looked up” some crap to throw out and distract us. He needs to pick up a “Population Dynamics for Dummies” book and educate himself.

          DO take a look at Dave’s graph and note that the rate of increase right now for world population is 1.2%, which will yield ~13 billion people in ~50 years and ~26 billion people in ~100 years, although the rate is projected to decline. Many seriously question whether earth can sustain 13 billion, and almost no one thinks 26 billion is possible.

          But that’s all just Dave distracting us, because the topic under consideration is CALIFORNIA and, as Chris says, “California is mostly reclaimed desert….A huge population with all it’s demands has been dumped on top of it…..Which brings us right back to mans exponential growth and the cycle of limits to growth”.

          California has nearly 40 million people and an annual population growth rate of 2.9%, which means it could have 80 (EIGHTY) million people 25 (TWENTY-FIVE) years from now—Chris is right to mention this, because the consensus it that CA is in trouble RIGHT NOW, and it will only get worse. Dave is FOS as usual.


  6. […] and feels warmer– it is spooky, and change not to come soon.  From the San Jose Mercury News via Climate Crock is […]


  7. […] 2014/01/14: PSinclair: California Drought: “Unprecedented” […]


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