Much has been said about the breadth of California’s drought but a new study puts the drought in an historic context. Quite simply, the ongoing drought is the worst the state has experienced in 500 years.
California’s drought in its fourth year
While the researchers who participated in the study of California’s ongoing drought knew they were dealing with something historic, the group had no idea that conditions are the worst the state has seen since the 1500s. The research paper that was published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday focused on an analysis of blue oak tree rings in California’s Central Valley.
“The results were astonishing,” said Valerie Trouet, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and lead author of the study. “We knew it was an all-time low over a historical period, but to see this as a low for the last 500 years, we didn’t expect that. There’s very little doubt about it.”
In addition to Trouet the study was authored by Eugene R. Wahl, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate data center David W. Stahle, a professor in the Geosciences Department at the University of Arkansas and Soumaya Belmecheri at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree Ring Research.
The group began their study in April of this year following an announcement that there was “no snow whatsoever” in the Sierra Nevada mountains for the first time in nearly a century. The significance of that is staggering as California counts on the melting of mountain snowpacks for 30% of its annual water supply.
California continues to burn
These record conditions and the lack of moisture in plants and the soil have turned the Golden State into a tinderbox. Lightning strikes among other causes have produced roughly a thousand more wildfires than last year including three presently burning in Northern California.
Those three fires continue to burn despite the efforts of nearly 9,000 firefighters and have already consumed a combined 270,000 acres forcing the evacuation of thousands and causing at least one death while destroying over 1,000 residences and commercial structures.
The largest of the three blazes which is being called the “Valley Fire” tore through Middletown, CA over the weekend.
“We were surrounded on three sides,” said William Slack, 59, who had lived in Middletown, about 90 miles north of San Francisco, for three years. “It was like a furnace. I’ve never seen anything so big before.” Mr. Slack is just one of nearly 1,000 people who are presently living in tents and cars at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
Other studies agree with today’s findings
In a study by scientists at Columbia University in conjunction with NASA their findings suggest that while this drought is largely a natural pattern greenhouse gases are not helping the problem.
“When greenhouse gases accumulate, it’s like a bully showing up at your door to demand that you give it more and more every year,” said the study’s lead author, Park Williams, a bio-climatologist at Columbia University’s Earth Science Institute.