California Drought Report #15

Rummaging through the new headlines this morning, I spotted this headline:

New normal’: Scientists predict less rain from here on out

This is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about a team of climate experts at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Stanford Weather Maps

Click for a larger image. Graphic from SF Chronicle

What’s gone wrong with the weather?

Ever since California began drying out four years ago, Noah Diffenbaugh and his crew of earth scientists at Stanford University have been working on that question. They’re on a mission, like detectives breaking down a psychological profile of a bad guy — only this hunt is done with calculators and computer models.

Their bad guy is the drought, one of the worst in California’s recorded history. And one of the most mysterious.

What’s most clearly known is this: A huge dome of stagnant air has spent much of the past four winters parked off the West Coast, driving the storm path far north of California. In years past, it would periodically slide south, letting in rain to the lowlands and snow to the mountains. Now, it hardly budges.

That’s where Diffenbaugh takes up the hunt. What has changed? Why did it change? And is that change permanent?

The bottom line is, drought conditions are the new normal according to the Stanford Team:

“California is in a new climate,” Diffenbaugh said. “And that’s a climate where droughts have already become much more likely, and will continue to be so in the coming years.”

The Stanford team claims to have studied climate history from 1895 to the present and then concluded that California problem was caused by — wait — Wait
global warming.

The Stanford team projects this trend to continue from here on out — translating into what Diffenbaugh says is the “new normal,” a future filled with warm and dry years about half the time, instead of a quarter. A big culprit in all this, the team says: global warming.

However, not everyone agrees. According to NOAA:

California’s historic drought is the result of naturally changing ocean conditions, according to a new federal report that dismisses man-made climate change as the root cause.


“Climate change would not have been a main driver of the precipitation anomalies,” said Marty Hoerling, a co-author of the report and researcher at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

I agree with NOAA, throughout history California has experienced long-term droughts, long before anthropogenic global warming was an issue. An issue that grows weaker and weaker as the global warming pause is now over 18 years long.  If the planet was not warming for 18 years, what caused the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge? According to NOAA it was caused by natural climate cycles.

These natural cycles maybe creating a new normal for California and we will once again be subjected to a series of long term droughts, interspersed with some wet years, as predicted by the Stanford team. However, given this new insight, we had better be prepared to capture and store the rain and snow during those wet years.

Do you know if your legislator is working to increase our water collection infrastructure? If not, you had better let him or her know that we can expect over half of our future years to be dry, rather than the past when only a quarter were dry. It could be your shower that will run dry if we do not store more water.

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
This entry was posted in Analysis, California, Climate, Climate Change, Drought. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to California Drought Report #15

  1. stevefrisch says:

    It is really sweet that you think that Russ, here is another take:

    “Kevin Trenberth, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, praised some of the modeling techniques employed in the NOAA report but found the results unsurprising and incomplete.

    “I would contend that all droughts are largely natural in the sense that they arise from internal variability in the atmosphere-ocean systems,” Trenberth said. “But this study completely fails to consider what climate change is doing to water in California.”

    He continued: “[The report] completely misses any discussion of evapotranspiration and the increased drying associated with global warming. In a drought, where there is an absence of precipitation, it is easily demonstrated that the extra heat from global warming – the increasing heating from increased greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide – enhances drying, increases risk of heat waves, and greatly increases risk of wild fire to a significant degree.”


    • Russ Steele says:

      Yes, but where is the increased heat. No warming for 18 years. Yes, we had warmer temperatures in CA, but they were caused by the warm blob off the coast, which was caused by a natural cycle. NOAA said, it was not anthropogenic global warming. The Stanford Team recognizes if it is delared a natural cycle the money to study global warming drys up. No money for natural cycles, which have been going on for millions of years. Same for Kevin Trenberth, who once wondered what did the heat go? Could not understand why nature was not following his climate models.


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