With less than two months to go in 2013, California is looking at its driest year on record. San Francisco, used as the benchmark because it has the longest consecutive rainfall in the state, received no rain in October and only 3.95 inches of precipitation since January. This is the lowest amount since record keeping began 164 years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“Generally speaking, it has been dry across the state, and it has been remarkably dry where the population centers are and where the bulk of the water storage is,” Arthur Hinojosa, chief of hydrology and flood operations for the California Department of Water Resources, told the Chronicle. “Most operators plan on multiyear dry years, but nobody plans on as dry as we’ve seen.”
Due to a string of warm, dry winters and the declining snowpack that they bring, many of the state’s northern reservoirs are at precariously low levels, some dwindling to just one-third or one-half capacity.
The unprecedented dry weather has also extended California’s fire season. Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told the Chronicle that the agency has responded to 6,439 fires this year, almost 2,000 more fires than during an average year. And that statistic doesn’t even include fires on federal lands, such as the devastating Rim Fire, which burned 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park earlier this year.
In August, California’s Department of Environmental Protection released a scientific study documenting the impact climate change is already having across the state — more frequent and intense wildfires, rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and snowpack, warmer lakes and oceans, and hotter temperatures.
Looking forward, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) asked the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced about the effects climate change will continue to have on the state. The researchers explained that while precipitation modeling is often variable and uncertain, “overall, California is likely to experience 50 percent to 150 percent more critically dry years.” Further, “water availability is certain to be more variable, as observations indicate California precipitation is becoming more and more variable. It is likely that a multiyear drought will occur, as has occurred numerous times in the past; however, future droughts may be longer lasting.”
As of November 5, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly the entire state of California is in a severe drought.