Friday, November 25, 2016

Monitoring the California Drought, Via the Road

There are two ways to evaluate and monitor a drought. There's the usual method, where people use data on precipitation, snowpack level and streamflow discharge and all that, and it's all well and good. But there's also the Geotripper method of looking at Mt. Shasta in Northern California when I drive by, once at Thanksgiving, and again at Christmas. Folks can have a debate on which method is the most accurate, but it would probably be a stupid argument. I would end up telling people to listen to the science, not to their own local and limited observation (note: this is also an argument to use in the so-called "debate" about global warming).
Still, the Geotripper method has an advantage: one has to hit the road and look at Mt. Shasta, and it is always a beautiful mountain to observe. It is the second highest of the Cascades volcanoes (14,179 feet; 4,321.8 meters), and the most voluminous of the stratovolcanoes (the lesser-known shields like Medicine Lake Highland are larger but shorter). And this year's observation is positive. There is a lot of snow covering the mountain already. Maybe the drought is easing a little bit?
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Here's how it looked in November 2012. So obviously the Geotripper method works great...
The drought this month. Source: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA
The real data actually is a bit encouraging. In 2015, the entire state was in serious trouble. More rain fell in northern California this year, and the area under the most severe drought condition has shrunk. A little bit, anyway. 12% of the state, in the far north, is back to "normal". There is still a huge area classed as "exceptional drought" in central and southern California, and if we don't get some big storms down that way, the fires are going to get worse. The trees will continue to die by the millions. And our economic problems in the agriculture sector will continue to mount.
Drought conditions, February 2015

The news from our state reservoirs is also mixed. Lake Shasta and Don Pedro are presently where they are supposed to be at this time of year, but others are low. New Melones is at 38% of where it should be by this time. Others are in the 60-70% range.
http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action
It's early in the rain season, so there is hope. There's always hope...

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