Monday, May 19, 2014

The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering

For a few days last month, it rained in San Francisco. Residents across the city cheered a welcomed respite from a drought that has crippled California for more than two years -- but the celebration turned out to be premature.

On Thursday, for the first time this century, the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that all of California is in a “severe” drought, with many areas of the state in an even worse condition, from "extreme" to "exceptional," the poorest possible rating.

“This is a once-in-a-generation conversation,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told The Huffington Post. He added that the last time California experienced comparable conditions was in the mid-1970s.

“The state has doubled its population between then and now,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got a lot more people using a relatively finite amount of water.”

The map below, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor, shows the varying levels of drought throughout California. The orange represents “severe,” the red is “extreme,” and the maroon is “exceptional” -- the agency’s highest level (Story continues below):

No area of the state is feeling the effects of the drought more harshly than San Diego, where wildfires have ripped through more than 10,000 acres of land and tens of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate. “In a drought, the biggest threat to health and human safety is wildfire,” Doug Carlson, an information officer at the California Department of Water Resources, told HuffPost.

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. “The drought has set the stage for a very busy, very long, potentially very dangerous fire season,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, said to HuffPost. “As we move into the more traditional summer months, the days are only going to get longer, and the temperatures are only going to get higher.”

California’s wildfire season usually peaks during summer and fall months and then tapers during the typically rainy winter. But the drought has turned wildfires into a year-round issue. “With that lack of rain, the grass, brush and trees really have been tinder-dry all year long,” Berlant explained, noting such conditions help flames flourish.

Svoboda added that the state’s hot, dry surface leads to a hot, dry, atmosphere, which creates a prime environment for wildfires to spread. “You also typically see windier conditions,” he added. “These are all things that fires feed on.”

The damage in Southern California has ravaged hills, homes and businesses. Beloved craft brewery Stone Brewing Company evacuated its premises on Thursday. On Wednesday, KTLA senior producer Marcus Smith tweeted a widely-recirculated photo of a “firenado,” a dangerous phenomenon caused by strong winds whipping spirals of fire into the air. More