Warmest winter on record worsens California drought

Warmer winters make for less snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When the snow melts into the state's rivers, it provides water throughout the summer, when the state typically experiences little rain.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
The dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir is seen on Thursday, March 13, in Cupertino, Calif. Lack of seasonal rain has meant water shortages for Californians this winter.

California is coming off of its warmest winter on record, aggravating an enduring drought in the most populous US state, federal weather scientists said Monday.

The state had a average temperature of 48 Fahrenheit (9 Celsius) for December, January and February, an increase from 47.2 F in 1980-81, the last hottest winter, and more than 4 degrees hotter than the 20th-century average in California, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement.

Warmer winters could make the already parched state even drier by making it less likely for snow to accumulate in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, NOAA spokesman Brady Phillips said. That snow, melting in the spring and summer and running down through the state's rivers, is vital for providing water in the summer, when the state typically experiences little rain.

"Winter is when states like California amass their main water budget, when snowpack is building," said Phillips, a marine biologist. "If you're starting from a deficit and going into the dry season, it's setting you up for a drier summer."

California is in the grip of a three-year dry spell that threatens to have devastating effects on the state and beyond. Farmers are considering idling a half million acres (200,000 hectares) of cropland, a loss of production that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage, and several small communities are at risk of running out of drinking water.

The state also recorded its driest winter to date by March, despite recent storms, with an average of 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) of rainfall, compared to 11.7 inches (29.7 cm) over the previous winter, NOAA said.

Around the West and in the Great Plains, multiple states also experienced warmer temperatures and low rainfall. Arizona had its fourth warmest winter to date and Texas had it lowest reservoir levels in 25 years by March.

Despite regional heavy snow pummeling regions the eastern region of the country, overall rainfall across the United States was far below normal. An average of 5.7 inches of rain fell overall in the United States in the past three months, causing the ninth driest winter on record, NOAA said.

Climatologists and other scientists with NOAA's National Climatic Data Center record a summary of temperatures and rainfall for all 50 states each month. Every three months, the federal agency releases data on spring, summer, fall and winter weather.

The agency is planning to release its spring outlook climate forecast on Thursday.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.