California Drought Update

April 2, 2014


Peter Gleick – Significant Figures:

Effectively 100% of California is experiencing abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.(click here for larger)

Below – This map shows the extraordinary precipitation deficit since the start of California’s water year on October 1st from NOAA’s Climate Data Center through March 20th.


A key component of California’s water supply system is the winter storage of snowpack and its slow release during spring and summer months. Rains in the past week have slightly boosted snowpack, but as of March 30, the Sierra Nevada current snowpack remains near record lows and the water storage is only 29% of normal.



Drought-weary California got more bad news Tuesday.

Though late-season storms slightly boosted the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, it’s still far below normal as the spring melt fast approaches.

“This is dismal news for farms and cities that normally depend on the snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – for a third of their water,” according to a release from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).

“Coupled with this winter’s scant rainfall, the meager snowpack — containing only 32% of average water content for the date — promises a gloomy summer for California farms and many communities.”

Surveyors from the DWR skied high into the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday to measure the amount of snow there — a spring ritual in the drought-plagued state. The measurement goes a long way toward pinpointing the state’s water supply this summer.

The state measures the snowpack in the northern, central and southern Sierra each month during the wet season, typically from October through March. The Sierra snowpack is vital because it stores water that melts in the spring as runoff. Communities and farmers depend on it during California’s hot, dry summers.

California is the nation’s most populous state, with a population of nearly 40 million people, and the state’s economy is the world’s eighth largest, according to a 2013 report from the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.

“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said DWR director Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out, and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

The April 1 survey is critical because it marks the peak of the snowpack. In January, the water content was only 12% of normal, the lowest snowpack on record.

Recent snow and rain — the first significant precipitation in weeks — was too little and too late to have much impact on this year’s statewide drought, the DNR reported. Snowpack and rain measurements are so far below normal for this time of year that even sustained rainfall won’t end the drought.

8 Responses to “California Drought Update”

  1. I wonder if we’re going to get a refuge population attempting to leave CA? Could it get large enough to create refuge camps like those in the Middle East?

    There was a refuge problem during the 1930s Great Depression, where communities had signs telling “tramps” to keep on moving and not “settle” in their towns. Also documented in the book THE GRAPES OF WRATH. This time it looks like it might be worse, involving millions.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “I wonder if we’re going to get a refuge(e) population attempting to leave CA?”

      IF the drought persists for another few years, is there much doubt that bad things will happen? If it persists for decades, is there ANY doubt? AZ has devoted a lot of attention to illegal immigrants from Mexico—-I wonder if they’ve planned for what may come from CA?

      And it won’t be as low key as what happened during the Depression, when 1+ million “Okies” migrated into a California of only 6 million. There are now nearly 40 million Californians, and where will they “migrate” to? Most will likely have to go north, since the SouthWest and MidWest are having their own water problems. The next Grapes of Wrath is going to be a real blockbuster.

  2. jpcowdrey Says:

    On the upside, it should be a very good year for wildflowers.

    Sorry, cattle ranchers.

  3. […] Peter Gleick – Significant Figures: Effectively 100% of California is experiencing abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.(click here for larger) …  […]

  4. rayduray Says:

    Fora TV has a one hour program on California water here:

    Here’s a 3 minute trailer for this segment:

  5. rayduray Says:

    The FiveThirtyEight blog continues to disappoint with this strangely written article about the impact of El Nino on California precipitation:

    I’m sensing a putrescence factor here, as if the FUD crew were worming their way into the works at Nate Silver’s mothership.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I wonder what Silver is up to? After a search, this guy Stirling appears to be a youngish reporter for the NJ Star Ledger who they describe as their “weather geek” and a “data reporter” (and may we assume that means he has some expertise in statistics?). He also wrote a similar strange article recently about the effects of an El Nino in NJ. He is certainly not a climate scientist, and doesn’t appear to be “high powered”—-why would Silver go to the JV for writers?.

      I also found the article to be “strangely worded”. What point(s) was it trying to make? 538 will bear watching.

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