National Drought Mitigation Center


California drought deepens as state sets records for dryness

January 30, 2014

Exceptional drought, the worst category shown on the U.S. Drought Monitor, appeared in California this week, for the first time in the nearly 15 years of data for the map, said Brad Rippey, meteorologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist.

The area in exceptional drought (D4) covers 8.77 percent of the state, Rippey said. The state also set a record for the extent of extreme drought or worse (D3-4), at 67.13 percent, up slightly from the 62.71 percent shown on the past two weeks’ maps, Jan. 14 and 21. Before this year, the record for extreme drought was in late summer of 2007, at 35.23 percent.

“Climatologically speaking, 15 years is a very short span of time, but it is safe to say that the current California drought rivals any in recent memory,” said Mark Svoboda, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “You’ve got to go back to the 1970s to find anything comparable.”

In narrative accompanying the map, this week’s author, Anthony Artusa, said, “The Central Sierra Snow Lab near the Donner Summit reports 8 inches of snow on the ground, the lowest for this time in January since at least 1946. In the general vicinity of Monterey to Bakersfield, conditions warranted a 1-category downgrade, from extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4). A few of the impacts within the D4 area include fallowing of land, wells running dry, municipalities considering drilling deeper wells, and little to no rangeland grasses for cattle to graze on, prompting significant livestock sell off.”

“Although some rain and snow showers are currently occurring in parts of northern and central California, a sustained period of heavy precipitation will be needed throughout February and March to mitigate widespread drought-related impacts during the summer of 2014,” Rippey said.

U.S. Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas of the country that are abnormally dry (D0), in moderate drought (D1), in severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3) and exceptional drought (D4). The map is released each week based on data through the previous Tuesday morning.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USDA, and about 350 drought observers across the country. This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author was Anthony Artusa, at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

U.S. Drought Monitor map, statistics and narrative summary:

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-- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center