Less than two months after devastating floods whipped through California, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency due to severe water shortages and a serious California drought. To exacerbate the situation, an intense wildfire is raging through the hills and forests above Glendora in Los Angeles.
In addition to the threats than accompany a California drought, meteorologist, Chad Meyers has warned that with 90 percent of the state gripped by the drought, 2014 could also become “a giant fire year.”
Announcing the state of emergency on Friday, Gov. Brown described the California drought as the worst the state “has ever seen” in the past century, since records were first kept in the 1890s. He said it was unlikely there would be rain for “several weeks,” and urged people to improve their conservation of water by 20 percent.
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s United States Drought Monitor, 62 percent of the state has been classified as suffering from “extreme drought.” Just two weeks ago, only 28 percent of the state fell under this same classification.
Generally the first two months of the year are the wettest for California, and there is lots of snow on the mountains. But this year it is dry and some ski resorts still haven’t opened to the public. Of course late November was exceptionally wet, with severe flooding and snow that swept through California and several neighboring states. Then it dried up, and the last time LA had any decent rain was on December 19. Ironically, though, this is the third very dry year in a row, and lawmakers in California have been urging President Barack Obama and Gov. Brown to declare a state of emergency for drought for months.
Early December, US Congressman, Jim Costa (who represents the 16th District of California) and his colleague Senator Dianne Feinstein appealed to Gov. Brown to “issue a drought emergency declaration.” Their action followed an announcement by the State Water Project that the initial allocation would be only 5 percent for 2014. With dams and reservoirs at the lowest levels they have been since the drought of 1977, they said federal funds should be made available and resources should be mobilized “to address drought conditions.”
Costa stated dramatically that another very dry year “could create devastating hardship for the people of our Valley and the entire state.” He warned that if something was not done to alleviate conditions produced by the California drought, they would be left with “fewer options than we have had in previous years to offer relief.”
The letter also drew attention to the fact that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had declared a state of emergency for drought twice, in 2008 and in 2009, so that “additional drought relief activities” could be authorized.
While Gov. Brown has blamed the California drought on natural weather patterns that have become out of control, climatologist Brian Fuchs, who is an US Drought Monitor report co-author, said the cause was “a blocking high.” Explaining the phenomenon, he said it was dry under a high-pressure dome. In addition, any storm systems approaching the West Coast were being deflected, he said. In normal circumstances these storms would bring rain that could be harvested for the future months that are expected to be dry.
On Thursday, in an attempt to ensure Marin County, close to San Francisco, has sufficient water until there is some meaningful rain, authorities started pumping water from one of two backup reservoirs.
The unseasonably dry weather is not restricted to California. Parts of 10 other states – Nevada, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Hawaii – were also designated disaster areas last week by federal officials from the Department of Agriculture.
According to Fuchs, the weather forecast through April is for warmer, even drier conditions. So if you’re wondering if the California state of emergency just imposed for drought is necessary, you should think again. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if there’s more severe flooding shortly after the drought. Just remember August 2013 and the devastation severe flash flooding brought then. August is just four short months after April, and it’s probably inevitable that floods will follow the drought.
By Penny Swift
United States Drought Monitor