Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Weird Weather that Entrenched California’s Drought

Snow-free conditions in late May near Lake Tahoe in the northern Sierra Nevada. (Credit: jcookfisher/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Several months after storms fueled by a fierce El Niño exploded over the northern Sierra Nevada, California’s mountain snowpack has nearly disappeared.

Scientists bid adieu last week to an El Niño that had been among the strongest on record, but that brought disappointingly few wintertime snowflakes and raindrops to the Southwest.  Snow that bucketed down in northern California during a string of March storms has largely withered during a sunny and warm spring.

Those unexpected meteorological forces pushed California into the fifth year of a drought that has already cost the state billions of dollars and thousands of farm-related jobs.  The prolonged crisis is illuminating the need to reimagine how water is stored and used in the West as the world warms up.

As summer begins, California’s snowpack is “pretty much getting close to bare,” said Frank Gehrke, California’s chief snow surveyor.  “This is coming off of last year being the worst year on record in terms of snowpack.”

Most of California is unusually dry for this time of year and large swaths of southern California remain in “exceptional drought,” the federal government’s Drought Monitor shows.  The projected arrival of El Niño’s counterpart, La Niña, is triggering fresh drought concerns throughout the region.

Californians and their landscapes depend on winter storms to deliver much of their annual water needs.  The Sierra Nevada snowpack serves as a giant natural water reservoir, gradually releasing water dumped by winter storms during warmer months.

The state is naturally predisposed to endure protracted droughts, and climate scientists say climate change is exacerbating those hazards.

Figures from Gehrke’s department show the Sierra Nevada snowpack contains about 6 percent as much water as is normal for this time of year.  That’s down from 90 percent in March following storms that eased drought in northern California but did little for the southern part of the state.

Read more at The Weird Weather that Entrenched California’s Drought

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