Doomsday Trigger for Megadrought?

One of the worst North American droughts in history could be getting a whole lot worse. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map released on Tuesday, more than 58% of California is in an “exceptional drought” stage. That’s up a staggering 22% from last week’s report. And, in its latest drought report released earlier today, the National Drought Mitigation Center warned that “bone-dry” conditions are overtaking much of the Golden State, and noted that, overall, California is “short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year.”

All across California, streams are drying up, crops are dying off, and local communities are struggling to maintain access to water, thanks to 3 years of persistent drought conditions. The situation is so dire that on Tuesday, California implemented state-wide emergency water-conservation measures, in an effort preserved what remaining water there is. Under the new measures, Californians can face fines of up to $500 per day for using hoses to clean sidewalks, run decorative fountains, and other water-guzzling activities.

Unfortunately, while the situation in California is already pretty bleak, it looks like things are only going to get worse. In fact, it’s possible that all of the American southwest could soon be seeing the devastating drought conditions that Californians are facing. That’s because the largest surge of heat ever recorded moving west to east in the Pacific Ocean, often referred to as a Kelvin Wave, which was supposed to start an El Nino and bring tropical-like rains to the West Coast and southwest, just dissipated, after it was absorbed by abnormally warm ocean waters.

An El Nino is marked by the prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, when compared to the average temperature. El Ninos usually happen every two to seven years, and can last anywhere between nine months and two years. As warm water spreads from the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the eastern Pacific, it brings rain and moisture with it, bringing rain to California and the American Southwest.

So, during an El Nino period, winters are often a lot wetter than usual in the southwest U.S., including in central and southern California, where drought conditions are currently the worst. That’s why Californians were hoping for a strong El Nino period, to bring the rains and moisture that’s needed to help ease the drought.

Unfortunately, while some weather models are still predicting that an El Nino is possible, the chances of an El Nino strong enough to break the devastating drought that California is seeing are now very, very slim. As a result, there’s probably no end in sight to the current drought conditions in California. And, since warm ocean waters that bring rain are moving farther north up the Pacific, while Oregon and Washington and Alaska will get rain, the jet stream is set to extend drought-like conditions to much of the southwest.

It could get so bad that there's now a very real possibility that devastating drought conditions will soon cover everywhere from Texas to California. Warmer ocean waters, like those that absorbed the record Kelvin ocean heat Wave, and the drought-like conditions they’re helping to influence, are a direct consequence of climate change and global warming.

According to NOAA, global ocean temperatures were the highest ever measured for June, and the global sea surface temperature anomaly, which is the difference in sea surface temperature from its historical average, was the highest in history. In a press release, NOAA wrote that, “For the ocean, the June global sea surface temperature was record warm, at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F). This marks the first time that the monthly global ocean temperature anomaly was higher than 0.60°C (1.08°F) and surpasses the previous all-time record for any month by 0.05°C (0.09°F).”

Because of climate change and global warming, our oceans are getting warmer and warmer, shattering previous temperatures records on what seems like a daily basis. And as our oceans continue to warm, we'll have more severe forms of weather, like the historic drought that has engulfed California.

As George Birchard points out over at Daily Kos, if our oceans continue to warm at the rates that we’re seeing today, “This could be a pattern that reinforces itself leading to drought patterns not seen since the ancient Pueblo people in the southwest were forced to migrate after decades of continuous drought.”

The stakes have never been higher. Unless we start taking the actions that are needed to curb climate change and global warming right now, California, and the rest of the southwest, may soon look more like the Sahara than one of the most populous regions in the U.S.


DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 44 weeks ago

Well said, Thom! However, one thing you didn't mention is how poorly the state government in California is handling the drought. This isn't the first time California has had a severe drought in my lifetime. The last time the one measure the government took was to ration water at water meters. Census and voluntary data was used to determine how many residents used the same water meter. Then a gallon per month allotment was placed on that meter. Any household going over that payed a $100 fine--if I remember correctly. It was more than enough to insure water conservation in most households. I remember catching water in our basins. Using bath water on plants. Turning off the shower head after wetting, then lathering and turning in on again to rinse off. Our house--along with every other I knew--were never fined. Everyone enacted strict water conservation measures and we got through the drought.

This latest legal measure California has adopted to deal with the drought is an irresponsible joke. I can't see it doing much good at all. One recent local article said that Santa Clara country was poised to hire 4-6 "water cops" to police the country. Their responsibility will be hoses used in front gardens. When we have water meters on every house we have placed the responsibility for conservation on a handful of Gestapo agents to police from the street. This approach is absolutely ridiculous and unconscionable in my opinion. The simple fact of the matter is that if you don't fine at the water meter you just don't really influence all water wasting behavior. Sure this problem is going to get worse before it gets better; however, I think it is important to note that the way the situation is being mishandled by the state it is going to get a lot worse a lot faster than it should.

BMetcalfe's picture
BMetcalfe 8 years 44 weeks ago

Sadly, since our infrastructure hasn't been maintained, for every drop of water citizens save, there will be yet another terrible water pipe bursting open. We lost more than 20 Million gallons this week when the pipe on Sunset Blvd. near UCLA broke, causing a horrendous flood, and loss of precious water resources. NO ONE, it seems, wants to raise water rates so we can hire the people it will take to do a massive, immediate overhaul of the nearly 100-year-old pipes that could break at any time. If people would see this as an emergency, we could perhaps put many more people into jobs that will get our infrastructure in better shape over the next couple of years. But if the people of SoCal and Los Angeles aren't willing to pay higher rates for water, then I guess we will all have to wait and see if we can make it through the drought... or face having to move if hundreds of these century-old pipes all burst at once, providing we can find a way out of the city around the flood waters.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 44 weeks ago
Quote DAnneMarc: Then a gallon per month allotment was placed on that meter.
"a gallon per month"?, that was some rationing. Be pretty hard to drink 8 glasses of water per day if you only get "a gallon per month". ;-}

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 44 weeks ago

Palindromedary ~ Sorry! Perhaps I should have said x gallons per month. Perhaps even, x gallons per person per month. It worked very well in our past drought. In fact, our household never even came close to getting fined. No one wanted to pay any more monthly bills than they already had to. I'm sure that situation hasn't changed. Let's face it, people just don't wash their cars every day. They don't wash down their sidewalk without a nozzle every day. However, they do shower, they do wash cloths and dishes. They do brush their teeth. They do water their back yards. That is where the most water is wasted; and, that is where the most water can be saved.

Besides I believe I said "a gallon per month allotment", not "one gallon per month allotment." The word gallon was used as a unit and not a quantity. Although, admittedly potentially confusing to some people.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 44 weeks ago

Marc, past California droughts (which ocurred while I still lived there) have altered my habits forever. Remember the phrase "Yellow is mellow, brown goes down"? And for decades now, I've shut off the water in the shower while soaping up. Ditto at the kitchen sink; ditto brushing my teeth or washing my hands. It's not that hard, folks; especially the way faucets are designed nowadays. Becomes second nature after awhile. Even here in rainy Oregon, my old drought habits prevail. No matter how much it rains here, I see no reason to revert back to my pre-drought habits.

While in assisted living, the last few years of her life, my mother was in the habit of running the water continuously in the sink while using the toilet. It drove me friggin' crazy. And she wouldn't let me turn it off! Must've been the Alzheimer's. (SIGH) - Aliceinwonderland

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 44 weeks ago

I too take marine showers and use a hill billy grey water system (a bucket under the shower till it warms up then water the plants). Waste not want not! Even though it does rain pretty often here in Semipalatinsk. ;-} It's radioactive rain but we got used to it! I even use it to brush my teeth for both of my heads..the original one and the one that started growing out of my left shoulder a number of years ago. Two heads are better than one..they say! But the one on my left shoulder insists on doing Mongolian throat singing while I'm trying to sleep sometimes. I wonder, if I chopped it off, would I be arrested for murder?

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 44 weeks ago

I'll admit that up to now, I haven't been in the habit of saving the shower water 'til it's warmed up. Maybe I oughta start doing that too. - AIW

Greenthumb's picture
Greenthumb 8 years 44 weeks ago

And the latest data indicate that the population of California is still increasing while wetter states like New York are losing population. How soon will it be before there's a switch - with migration to the very wet Northeastern states? Will land prices in the east start to skyrocket to those of land in California? Also I heard today that satellite data indicate that ground water in western states is at an all time low and decreasing yearly. Perhaps it's time to rethink our agricultural policies that allot so much money to western states (mainly for irrigation) and instead allot funding for more greenhouse growing in the water rich states that don't have as warm a climate as California. Already many countries in the rest of the world are starting to grow much of their produce under cover. Here in the US, we should follow their lead.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 44 weeks ago

Lately, though, I've just been taking cold showers to beat the heat. It's been in the 70's here in Semey and might go up to 81 by Wednesday.

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 44 weeks ago

Climate change due to global warming. Some may say it's just a temporary thing, just bad luck with the weather or a hoax. These people had better get real and listen to what all of those who have devoted their lives to studying climate are saying, that climate change is getting worse for all af the living inhabitants of Planet Earth and we are causing it to get worse. It may or may not be too late to do anything about it. If we try to change the climate we have a chance of surviving. Don't tell me we can't change the climate because we have already done just that, but for the worse, without even trying. Imagine what we could do if we try to change the climate, but for the good this time. We first need to stop poisoning our atmosphere in every way possible. We are the humans. We're smart We can figure it out Our smartness just needs to outweigh our greedyness Even Exxon could figure out ways of making money from alternitive energy if they just would. If we, as a species dedicate ourselves to climate change the lakes will fill up again and we will have a clean healthy planet with normal weather patterns. If we don't do anything, it will be to late because we'll all be dead and there's not much you can do when you're dead.

Loren Bliss's picture
Loren Bliss 8 years 44 weeks ago

The answer is not "to raise water rates" (thereby turning California into another Detroit, wherein access to potable water is now a privilege of wealth rather than a human right). The answer is to tax the One Percent -- the obscenely rich parasites whose infinite greed is reducing the United States not just to a Third World nation, but to the modern equivalent of an antebellum slave plantation. (This in response to BMetcalfe.)

Loren Bliss's picture
Loren Bliss 8 years 44 weeks ago

It is increasingly obvious the One Percent and its hireling Ruling Class has no intention of doing anything to combat terminal climate change.

Probably the primary reason for this do-nothing policy is the moral imbecility at the core of capitalism -- the "I've-got-mine/fuck-you" ethos that lurks beneath the capitalists' genocidal hostility toward anyone who is not part of the aristocracy.

That Antoinette attitude plus the aristocrats' arrogant belief they themselves are enough protected by economic reality and technology to survive any debacle Nature might produce guarantees we soon-to-be-victims of the apocalypse will be abandoned to our fate just as were the residents of New Orleans during Katrina -- which was in fact a preview of the modes of governance and death that are increasingly defining this planet's human future.

My own suspicion is this sort of apocalypse has happened before, both beyond our solar system and inside it as well.

As to such disasters beyond this system, the fact we have yet to encounter any conclusive evidence of an advanced civilization anywhere in the vastness of space suggests, as I believe Carl Sagan postulated, that all allegedly "intelligent" species self-destruct, just as ours is doing. (The alternative to self-destruction is a low-tech, static-state sustainability of the sort achieved by the proto-communistic Minoan civilization, which lasted nearly 2,000 years, but was destroyed by one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in this planet's history. )

In any case, the advent of patriarchy, with its mandates for endless war, conquest and enslavement, doomed forever any possibility of a self-sustaining human society on this planet.

Though I have no patience with the UFO cult and its VonDanikenoid ("Chariots of the Gods") derivitives -- as far as I am concerned it is, like the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), merely another escapist variant on the Santa Claus myth -- I do harbor a faint suspicion the alleged ruins on Mars are real.

This of course suggests that now-ruined Mars was our species' original home, that we destroyed it as we are now destroying Earth, and that -- as a PhD environmentalist I know already projects -- the drought that is at present destroying the Southwest will eventually destroy this entire planet also.

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 44 weeks ago

The wrong doing of the one percent can be corrected. It will take electing enough of our governmental representatives to do so. Maybe wheh enough rednecks lives are wiped out by fires, floods, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, tidal waves, and blizzards, they will vote for the person says they will do everything they can to address climate change instead of the person who says they are "pro-gun" or "anti-abortion".

SisterAnnie's picture
SisterAnnie 8 years 43 weeks ago

California's main use of water is agriculture. It overwhelms the use by the average citizen. Yet there is very little infrastructure or discipline in most AG to save water. No one knows how much groundwater is being used and by whom, big AG does little to save while mom an pop AG is flailing with whatever meager methods they think of. Crops are mostly water heavy, which has been something of a trend in the past few decades. so the average citizen who uses almost nothing in comparison to AG which uses everything will be the loser here. We need a strong hand in forcing AG to plant more drought tolerant crops, get a hold of the ground water distribution and subsidize use of novel water saving measures. So much that can be done so the average citizen doesnt have to end up brushing his teeth with bottled water.

dalestur716's picture
dalestur716 8 years 43 weeks ago

We just drove through the Klamath Basin last Saturday afternoon (7/26) during the hottest time of day with lowest humidity--except for the giant circular sprinklers spouting water on every alphalfa, mint and potato field in sight, save for those being inundated with flood irrigation. Sunday I read that salmon are dying in the lower Klamath River as they await sufficient cool water to make it to their spawning grounds. As they linger in warm, stagnant water, they're being sickened and killed by proliferating viruses. So, inspite of the noisy protestations of local farmers that they're the endangered specie, a nobel fish faces very real extinction while entitled humans indulge water profligacy, cultivating water-intensive crops in a desert. These "conservative" Republican stalwarts, who do the opposite of conserving, reap favorable treatment in a supposed "compromise" with salmon and migrating birds. Tell that to the dying salmon, who have no voice to lobby for their right to exist. So, California is surely in a mega-drought, but you'd never know it passing through the lush alphalfa fields and pasture lands of the arid (until irrigated) Klamath Basin where farmers spray millions of gallons of scarce water to the heavens, thinking they have a God-given right to their destructive lifestyle.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago

This just in! Methane interaction confirmed in creation of Siberian mystery hole.

SisterAnnie's picture
SisterAnnie 8 years 43 weeks ago

Salmon are a great example of a species suffering from global climate change.

bobcox's picture
bobcox 8 years 43 weeks ago

Champagne, Illinois has had two months of cooler than normal weather. July had two days that set new records for low temperatures.

Our rain fall is quite a bit above "normal". Remember, normal is a running average of 33 years. Our temperature and rainfall has only been measured reasonably accurately since Pres. Grant set up the National Weather Service.

Some weather researchers have investigated the conditions of the interface between the interglacial periods and the glacial periods. It is reasonably possible that we are in one of these transition periods.

bobcox's picture
bobcox 8 years 43 weeks ago

Considering the Yellowstone Caldera, it is also possible that the center of the earch is heating up, making the magma more fluid with higher temperatures and coming to the surface as various volcanos. The Yellowstone Caldera is one of the largest on the surface of the world. Asphalt roads on the surface is now melting due to higher temperatukres from this soiurce. If it blows, most life on this planet will ber gone.

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