“As the day went forward the sun became less red. It flared down on the dust blanketed land. The men sat in the doorways of their houses… The men sat still-thinking-figuring.”
— From the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, on one of the worst droughts in U.S. history.
By Marcelle Dibrell
While the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest are experiencing some of the worst of what Old Man Winter has to offer this season, California is in real trouble as it enters into its third consecutive year of drought with no indication of any signs of improvement.
Most of the state is experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, the two most severe of the five drought categories.
The Obama Administration declared most of the Bay Area as “natural disaster areas,” making them eligible for emergency federal loans for farmers.
The future prognosis isn’t good either. California’s historically dry weather is expected to continue through March. In a normally acrid state that almost totally relies on winter storms for its yearly precipitation, a third year of drought really could be disastrous, and the National Weather Service is predicting just that.
According to the National Drought Mitigation center, generally, “The immediate cause of drought is the predominant sinking motion of air (subsidence) that results in compressional warming or high pressure, which inhibits cloud formation and results in lower relative humidity and less precipitation. Regions under the influence of semi-permanent high pressure during all or a major portion of the year are usually deserts, such as the Sahara and Kalahari deserts of Africa and the Gobi Desert of Asia.”
In the case of the current drought affecting the western part of the United States, the drought is being blamed on an extremely large mass of high-pressure air that has parked itself off the coast of California for over a year. The high pressure zone, four miles high and 2,000 miles long, has blocked the Pacific winter storms from reaching the California Coast since December 2012 and is instead deflecting them to Alaska, British Columbia, and as far away as the East Coast.
Most years, high pressure zones will come and go, but this time, the zone has come and stayed.
The dire weather predictions are based on the fact that there is a large area of the Pacific Ocean that is almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than historical averages, but the water at the coast is 1 degree cooler. This water temperature condition is called the negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and causes above average sea level pressures.
The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is a normal water phenomenon that fluctuates between positive and negative phases, and results in climate changes.
For example, the negative phase, which we are currently in, tends to enhance La Nina conditions, and typically results in much drier than normal conditions for California.
So it looks like the cards are stacked against California again. But while the situation looks pretty bad this year, there is some potentially good news for next year.
According to an early warning report published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early this February, scientists are predicting a 75-percent chance of an El Nino event expected late in 2014.
So hang in there, California: If it comes, El Nino will bring buckets of rain!
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