California ‘Rain Debt’|Equals a Year of Storms

     (CN) – Four bone-dry years in a row in California have so far cost the state a “rain debt” equal to a year’s worth of rain, according to a NASA study released Thursday.
     The study conducted by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center viewed California’s drought through satellite images and revealed that over the last four years, the parched state is short 20 inches of rain – the average rainfall the state expects as a whole in one year.
     NASA’s report blames California’s notorious drought on a stubborn high-pressure system, nicknamed the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” for blocking moisture-rich atmospheric rivers over the last four years. The ridge has denied potent winter storms known as the Pineapple Express from reaching the Golden State’s shores.
     “When they say that an atmospheric river makes landfall, it’s almost like a hurricane, without the winds. They cause extreme precipitation,” the study’s lead author Andrey Savtchenko said in a statement.
     According to the study, the atmospheric rivers account for 20 to 50 percent of California’s precipitation on average and happen just a few times a year.
     Climate change could be enhancing California’s current drought and NASA says ultra-dry stretches could become more common in the future.
     “Drought has happened here before. It will happen again, and some research groups have presented evidence it will happen more frequently as the planet warms,” Savtchenko said. “But, even if the climate doesn’t change, are our demands for fresh water sustainable?”
     The study also cites the state’s large growth in population, industry and agriculture as reasons the current drought has had such drastic impact on groundwater supplies and reservoir levels when compared with prior droughts.
     In April, a diminished Sierra Nevada snowpack forced Gov. Jerry Brown to issue the state’s first mandatory water restrictions. Brown tasked regulators and water agencies with finding a way to cut urban water use by 25 percent of 2013 levels.
     On Thursday, the State Water Resources Control Board released data showing that Californians took heed of Brown’s order and slashed urban water use by a collective 27 percent in June – the first official month of Brown’s mandate. Water agencies face penalties for falling short of their conservation goals.
     “This report shows that residents knew they had to keep conserving even during the summer heat and they kept the sprinklers off more than they would in a normal year,” said Felicia Marucs, water board chair. “That’s the right attitude as we head into August and September heat – in the drought of the century with no certain end date.”
     NASA’s study examined 17 years of satellite observations and 36 years of combined observations to graph California’s yearly precipitation levels since 1979. The report detailed a particularly dry period between 1986 and 1994, where the state’s precipitation deficit reached 27 inches.
     According to the report, El Nino patterns typically contribute just six percent to California’s precipitation variability and that it’s possible the El Nino conditions expected later this year won’t end the drought.
     The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rank the current El Nino as the third strongest in the past 65 years as measured in May and June.

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