Rain-Feeble Drought

December 29, 2015

CC_El_NinoBright sunshine with a whole-lot of cold this Tuesday afternoon on California’s north coast as it appears we’ll be rain-free for a few days, with no wet stuff expected until next Sunday.

You’d think after nearly three weeks of near-continuous rain there’d be more (via KPBS): As of Tuesday morning, the average Sierra snowpack was sitting at 38 percent of what normally piles up by April 1. That’s an improvement on levels from California’s past two years of drought. But they’re still fairly average levels for this time of year. Rainfall throughout the state was at 39 percent of the April 1 normal, also hewing close to historical averages.’

(Illustration: El Niño last August, via NOAA, found here).

California is whacked in the midst of a drought that seems to never ‘want‘ to go away. Although our rainfall totals so far have been good, but when facing such dry conditions for so long — the drought now in its fourth year — these storm need to be whoppers.
More from KPBS:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate researcher David Pierce said this year’s El Niño remains one of the strongest on record, but it has not yet channeled monster storms toward California.
“We’re hoping for a real bumper year of high water totals, with lots of snow and lots of precipitation,” Pierce said.
“That hasn’t really happened so far, but at least it’s been normal. That’s a lot better than we’ve had in previous years.”
Moving into 2016, Californians don’t yet have cause to be pessimistic about the drought getting worse.
But so far El Niño hasn’t offered any reason to be optimistic about it getting better.

And the drought is really bad, even the land is sinking in California’s San Joaquin Valley, and we’re on a statewide water rationing scheme, which so far has been in the ‘okay‘ range. In an apparent natural waterless-flow, now our trees are losing shade.
From yesterday’s Phys.org:

California’s forests are home to the planet’s oldest, tallest and most-massive trees.
New research from Carnegie’s Greg Asner and his team reveals that up to 58 million large trees in California experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and today due to the state’s historic drought.
Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In addition to the persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle increased forest mortality risk. But gaining a large-scale understanding a forest’s responses to the drought, as well as to ongoing changes in climate, required more than just a picture of trees that have already died.

Their new approach revealed a progressive loss of water in California’s forest canopies over the four-year span.
Mapping changes in canopy water content tells scientists when trees are under drought stress and greatly aids in predicting which trees are at greatest death and fire risk.

“California relies on its forests for water provisioning and carbon storage, as well as timber products, tourism, and recreation, so they are tremendously important ecologically, economically, and culturally,” Asner explained.
“The drought put the forests in tremendous peril, a situation that may cause long-term changes in ecosystems that could impact animal habitats and biodiversity.”
The team’s advanced tools showed that about 41,000 square miles (10.6 million hectares) of forest containing up to 888 million large trees experienced measurable losses of canopy water between 2011 and 2015.
Of this group, up to 58 million large trees reached water loss thresholds that the scientists deemed extremely threatening to long-term forest health.
Given the severity of the situation, even with increased precipitation due to El Nino, if drought conditions reoccur in the near future, the team predicts that there would be substantial changes to already significantly weakened forest structures and systems.

Rain the drought, rain…

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