Extended Dry Period Suggests State Could Be In "Mega Drought"
Speaker 1: 00:00 This week on midday edition, we're bringing you stories related to earth day, which is commemorated on Thursday, April 22nd. Today we're talking about drought and the many ways the current extended drought period as impacted communities across the state for many Californians concerned over drought conditions, haven't been a seasonal issue. They've been a way of life with consecutive years of record, high temperatures and scarce rainfall. Some climate researchers are hinting at the possibility. California has actually been in a protracted mega drought, which means the impact of climate change could be much more severe across the state here to talk about that is Daniel kn a researcher of climate atmospheric science and physical oceanography at the Scripps institution of oceanography at UC San Diego. Daniel, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. So as California enters another drought season, the question now is whether or not the last one ever ended in the first place, is it safe to say that the state is in a period of mega drought? Speaker 2: 01:02 It certainly is the case that since 2000 we've been in and out of dryness and this last event really took hold in 2020 and has persisted through the current period. But I guess arguably we've had five waves of dryness beginning in 2020, but we have had those dry spells punctuated with some wet years. Oh five Oh six, 2011 and 2017 was quite wet. So one thing that I think we have to remember about California is that our setting a Mediterranean area means that we're on the edge of a winter storm track. So we have a limited time window when we can receive precipitation, roughly between November and March. And in some cases, the storm track is farther North and we are dry. And the fact that we receive a very strong proportion of our precipitation from just a handful of storms each winter, and if those storms are absent such as this last year, we are, uh, often in the dry category. Speaker 1: 02:23 You know, the previous year saw a devastating fire season fueled by a historically dry drought season. Have we seen the worst of it yet? Or can we expect conditions to continue to worsen? Speaker 2: 02:35 There's a certain amount of crystal ball in that answer, but climate models certainly indicate that over decades conditions will become more extreme, warmer temperatures and extended summer dry season. All of that spells a larger concern with wildfire in the, uh, climate future. Speaker 1: 03:01 Now sustained drought conditions have also severely impacted water availability across the state's agricultural sector, even prompting concerns over water rationing. How could this long-term drought period affect how we all manage water Speaker 2: 03:15 Conservation comes into play, and it's not only the agricultural sector which is affected, but also urban and industrial components of water demand are affected. Agriculture actually traditionally in California has, has mitigated dryness by the use of groundwater. And we know that in the recent historical past drive ants have been, have been marked by the increase use of groundwater levels. That to some extent has become a little bit curtailed with stronger groundwater management. But when we look at the historical record, the really large swings in water use and water demand have really appeared in the urban sector. So, um, there's been a lot of conservation that's been instituted during these dry spells. And I think that we can imagine that we'll see urban as well as agricultural sectors sort of belt tightening as far as their water use. Speaker 1: 04:30 You know, ultimately what we're talking about here are the growing ways climate change affects our communities and our environment. So what can be done to prepare our state for this new normal of extreme weather? Speaker 2: 04:42 There's a number of, uh, aspects of that question, water conservation, and probably the partitioning of water between the various sectors in California. Again, a commitment that is made that water is going to be needed for years on end in a rather steady fashion. Those are the kinds of societal decisions that I think we're going to have to grapple with in the future. As climate becomes impacted more by by climate change, extremes become more intense. And so on another aspect that comes into play is our ability to forecast climate and actually weather at shorter timescales. The weather forecasting problem is really important because advanced notice of a big storm, for example, allows water managers to move water around, make more reservoir space available in certain places and insulate the public from floods, which is the other side of the coin in the volatile, uh, water picture in California. Speaker 1: 05:48 I've been speaking with Daniel K and a climate scientist at the Scripps institution of oceanography at UC San Diego. Daniel, thank you so much. Speaker 2: 05:57 Uh, it was a pleasure Jade and thanks for covering the story.