Drought in California – Causes and Consequences

I have never thought that I would write my first blog as a school task,  honestly I was quite surprised when I found about the necessity to write a blog in order to pass the subject Climate changes and protection of the environment. But there’s a first time for everything and I will try my best to fulfill this task and keep you interested throughout the whole blog 🙂

I chose to dedicate my blog to drought in California. The reason behind this choice is that I visited this beautiful US state last year and experienced the extreme drought myself.

With something over 38 million inhabitants and area of 423 970 km2   is California the 3rd largest and 1st most populous state in the US.  It is the centre of the US movie industry (L.A.), the high-tech  industry (Silicon Valley) and leading producer of fruits and vegetables in the USA.

mount whitney
Mount Whitney

The climate and terrain of this state is very diverse – you can find high mountains there, such as Sierra Nevada in the east (its highest peak Mount Whitney stands at 4421 m. and it is the highest peak of the continental USA), Techachapi Mountains in the south and Cascade Range in the north, vast valleys, such as Central California Valley – which is the agricultural centre of the state, deserts such as Mojave desert in the south central (you can find the Death Valley there – it is the hottest and driest place in North America and it holds the record for the highest temperature ever directly recorded on the Earth – 57 ºC), national parks such as Yosemite National Park or Sequoia National Park, several lakes such as Lake Tahoe or Clear Lake and beautiful coastal ranges in the western part of the state.

National Park Death Valley
National Park Death Valley
Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
 central coast of California
central coast of California
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

The variety of the terrains causes this state to have a range of climate zones – the western part along the coast has a very pleasant climate with cool winters and hot, dry summers, similar to that of Mediterranean area, the northern part possesses a temperate climate, which is a result of the cool California current flowing around its coast, the eastern part, where the deserts are located, experiences very hot and dry summers and cold or mild winters (depending on the elevation of a particular desert). The areas with high mountains experience cold winters and mild summers. “Cali” consists of many diverse climate zones and terrains, which cause it to have several ecoregions with diverse flora and fauna.

As the one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world, it is very sad to see that this state suffers from a serious drought, which is according to some scientists, the worst drought in 1200 years.  California experiences the fourth year in a row with low rainfall and high temperatures. The year 2014 was the hottest year on record.  The situation is so serious, that Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University claims that „California is in a different climate”.  The main reason behind this situation is climate change, that causes drought with two mechanisms: rising temperatures and changing atmospheric patterns causing diminishing rainfall. The main source of the water supply in California used to be snowfall, but because of the rising temperatures the snow pack levels were in the last four years on the record levels. Warmer conditions mean that mountain snows melt earlier, snow turns into rain, and soils dry out faster. According to Jeff Nesbit, the executive director of Climate Nexus, “changing weather patterns due to global warming may have contributed to the reduced precipitation. In 2013 and 2014, a high-pressure zone formed over the Pacific Ocean, diverting precipitation toward Alaska (where the record warmth and precipitation caused avalanches).  While these zones are common, they normally quickly change position. In contrast, the stability of this particular high-pressure “ridge” was unprecedented in modern weather records, held by a large, static bend in the jet stream. The ridge blocked storms from reaching the state for almost all of the 2013-14 rainy season”.

Sign in the Death Valley - future for the whole California??
Sign in the Death Valley – future for the whole California??

The important question now is what the consequences of this change are and will be. Agriculture sector and ski resorts have already been hurt by the change in climate. As I mentioned above, California is the fruit and vegetables’ breadbasket of the US. Last year’s hottest temperatures on record caused the prices of fruit and vegetables to rise throughout the whole country. Cattle- breeding has been impacted by the drought too.  Californian farmers are dealing with the diminishing area of grazing pastures, which forces them to buy extra feed for their cattle and increase prices for their products. According to the USDA report, the prices of beef and veal increased by 12,1% in 2014. Ski resorts  suffer from the lack of snowfall too. Last winter four ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region (Sierra Nevada) shut down early due to the lack of snow.

What can California do? The answer to this question is not simple. Its mayor Governor Jerry Brown ordered in first state-wide mandatory water regulations in April.  Campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes are required to significantly cut water use; direct local governments must replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought-tolerant landscaping and create a temporary rebate program for consumers who replace old water-sucking appliances with more efficient ones. This order requires local governments to charge higher rates as more water is used and requires agricultural users to report more water use information to state regulators. Experts regard these regulations to be a step in the right direction, but they claim that several other reforms should be done. They suggest investing in water pipes, because the current ones lose a great amount of water through leaks. They suggest the diversification of the water supply – by capturing the stormwater, recycling potable water, reusing the waste water for drinking (after a proper treatment of course) and investing in desalination.

I really hope that the authorities in California and the USA will come up with a proper and effective way to deal with these changes and that they will be able to implement them. It would be very sad to see this beautiful and diverse part of the world dry out.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Barbora Paulíková

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2 thoughts on “Drought in California – Causes and Consequences

  1. I wish to go to “Cali” one day, hopefully it will be able to keep its diversity and beauties for the next generations. Very interesting article, I had no idea, that California faces such serious drought problems…


  2. Thanks for this article… it is sad to see such a stunning scenery to disappear “just” by process of climate change. It is not fair that climate change touches all countries and places around the world, even the most beautiful. I feel desperate to be part of this world and not be able to act. Milan


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