Drought is not a word that we usually associate with winter. Snow, ice, and freezing rain feature more prominently in the winter weather forecast. But in California, 2013 was a very dry year, and as the state enters 2014, conditions are serious.
As of December 24th, 85 percent of the state was experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions. In Santa Cruz, a city that usually gets around thirty inches of rain a year, only five inches of rain have fallen so far this rain year – July to June.
California Drought: Agriculture in Peril
What does severe drought look like? It looks like parched soil and waning groundwater supplies. For those who depend on the land to make a living, this drought is especially challenging. Wells have dried up, and farmers are importing water for their crops and cattle.
Without damp soil for new spring crops, farmers are forced to irrigate the fields early so that crops can get a good start. Rural residents in general are facing concern over their water supplies, as wells begin to dry up.
Impacts on the National Food Supply Impacts
The California drought isn’t only about rural residents. California’s drought is the nation’s problem and to some extent the world’s. With its sometimes dry, sometimes wet, and often warm conditions, California is known as one of the country’s best places to grow food. In fact, almost half of the fruit, vegetable, and nut crops eaten in the United States come from California. Strawberries, grapes, walnuts, almonds, lettuce, and tomatoes all grow abundantly on California farms. Although farmers are still able to access some surface water, groundwater and imported water, persistent drought challenges their ability to pay for imports of water for their crops and food and water for livestock. Drought makes it harder and harder to run a farm, and the nation’s pantries depend on imports from California.
California Forest Fire Danger
Unfortunately, the food supply is only one of a number of concerns in the drought-stricken state. In dry conditions, fires caused by storms or people can spread easily and can be difficult to contain. Last summer’s Rim Fire was the biggest on record in the Sierra Nevada and the third largest in California’s history, burning 257, 314 acres of land. Drought and a heat wave helped the fire spread from its initial 40 acres to 100,000 acres within four days. While fire season might seem far away, dry conditions in California’s forests could herald an early start.
California Drying Up
Droughts are not disasters that move quickly. They’re slow, and they’re very challenging. An earthquake or a hurricane happens quickly and has a definite end point, followed by rebuilding – but weather happens day after day, month after month. When it doesn’t happen in the same way that it has in the past, the human systems that are based on historic weather patterns find themselves staring into a troubling and unpredictable future.
With the National Weather Service predicting a continued or intensifying drought in California into the early spring, those sunny skies aren’t looking quite so welcoming, and California residents are wishing for dark clouds on the horizon.
Decoding Science. One article at a time.