It’s a near-perfect morning on Venice Beach in Southern California, temperatures in the 60s, with a breeze. You can hear the waves of the Pacific crash against the sand. Only a layer of clouds mars the scene.
Scott and Sue Nolan, visiting from Houston, play kickball in the sand with their son. They are grateful to be in this mild, if not perfectly sunny weather, but Sue Nolan has noticed something’s not right.
“One of the thoughts, when we were driving through town was, how are they sustaining all this with what you see so dry everywhere?” she says.
The Nolans are seeing the effects of California’s lingering drought. While the East Coast is digging out from a major winter storm, the West Coast is praying for rain. The state just finished one of the driest years on record, and that has water managers, farmers and others worried.
For the third year in a row, rain and snowfall in the state have been extremely low. In a normal year, Los Angeles gets close to 15 inches of rain. In 2013, LA got about 3.5.
The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that almost 95 percent of California is enduring some level of drought. The California Department of Water Resources says much of the drought the state is experiencing can be attributed to climate change.
“We’re coming off two years of below-normal precipitation,” says Allan Haynes, a hydrologist with the California and Nevada River Forecast Center. “We’ve had an exceptionally dry past 12 months. In fact, one of the driest calendar years on record in lots of locations.”
Haynes says the lack of snow in Northern California affects the entire state.
“It’s a very complicated picture as far as how people get water,” he says. “But typically, in most cases, it’s irrigation — water that comes from somewhere other than locally.”
Much of California gets its water from the Sierra Nevada snowpacks. Those snowpacks, though, are only at 20 percent of average levels.
California’s water woes might soon begin to affect the entire country; because California is America’s No. 1 food and agricultural producer. A drought could push up food prices.
As far as the forecast for future rain, Jeanine Jones with the Department of Water Resources has a bleak outlook.
“Our seasonal forecast says that the odds point to dry,” Jones says. “Currently, in terms of the longer-range weather forecast, we’re not seeing any significant relief in the next couple of weeks.”
Gov. Jerry Brown has convened a drought task force to help the state prepare for what could be a very dry 2014.