The figures have been tallied, and 2013 was officially California’s driest year since state officials began to record rainfall data in 1849. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, roughly 90% of California has been in drought since May and much of the state’s Central Valley (a major agricultural hub for the entire country) is facing what experts call “extreme drought”.
“Soil moisture is depleted, reservoir storage is down and even if we had average rainfall statewide, we probably wouldn’t see average runoff just because soil moisture is so depleted,” California Department of Water Resources deputy drought manager Jeanine Jones told USA Today late last month.
SoCal was particularly parched last year, with a yearly rainfall of only 3.6 inches. Los Angeles typically receives more than four times as much rainfall during the calendar year, and the 2013 measurement shatters previous all-time low records (1947 and 1953) by nearly half an inch. Major cities in Central California didn’t fare much better, either. San Francisco received 5.6 inches of rain last year, while Sacramento recorded 6.12 inches; both of these figures are all-time records in cities that annually receive 23.65 inches and 18.46 inches of rain, respectively.
Meteorologists are blaming the drought conditions in California on a “large blocking ridge of high pressure” off the Western U.S. coastline. This ridge is so wide that it has diverted precipitation storms to the central and eastern states, leaving California (as well as the neighboring states of Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada) drier than ever before. This spells trouble for forested areas in all of these states; historically, drought conditions of this magnitude have preceded some of the most destructive wildfire seasons in U.S. history.
These troubling conditions led Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-Calif.] and Rep. Jerry Costa [D-Calif.] to highlight their concerns in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and President Obama last month. “We have had two years of dry conditions that have depleted our reservoirs and reduced carry-over storage to historically low levels not seen since 1977,” the letter stated, eventually calling on the president to declare a federal disaster in California.
While California’s political leaders await word about the state’s disaster relief status, the weather forecast from the Climate Prediction Center is worrisome: below-average rain and snowfall throughout Central and Southern California until at least March