Maps

A Grim Map of California's Drought

The state is facing what could be its worst water-shortage in four decades.

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While the country's appetite for extreme weather news was filled (to the brim) this week by the polar vortex, spare a thought for sunny California, where exceptionally dry weather is provoking fears of a long, tough summer ahead.
 
The state is facing what could be its worst drought in four decades. The chart above, released by the National Drought Mitigation Center on Monday, shows just how dry the soil is compared to the historical average: the lighter the color, the more "normal" the current wetness of the soil; the darker the color, the rarer. You can see large swathes of California are bone dry.
 
Nearly 90 percent of the state is suffering from severe or extreme drought. A statewide survey shows the current snowpack hovering below 20 percent of the average for this time of year. The AP is reporting that if the current trend holds, state water managers will only be able to deliver 5 percent of the water needed for more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of farmland.
 

A study published in Nature Climate Change at the end of last year found that droughts will probably set in more quickly and become more intense as climate change takes hold.

About the Author

  • James West is the editor and producer of The Climate Desk, a collaboration among The Atlantic, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS. He is the author of Beijing Blur.