California tightens water regulations amid long drought

Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Water regulators in California voted on Tuesday to outlaw watering the lawn within 48 hours of a rainstorm, the latest effort to spur Californians to conserve as the state enters its fourth year of drought.

Facing a dramatic slowdown in voluntary conservation efforts by property owners, the state Water Resources Control Board also tightened conservation rules in other ways, prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless customers request it, and forbidding lawn-watering more than twice a week.

“I am sorry we have to do this,” Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said before the vote. “But we are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation really warrants.”

California is the only U.S. state to regulate water use in this manner, Marcus said.

The drought lingers on despite storms that brought some respite in December and February. The storms helped fill some of the state’s reservoirs higher than they were at this time last year, but most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which melts in the spring and provides up to a third of the state’s water, stood at 12 percent of normal on March 17.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)

California Is Turning Back Into A Desert And There Are No Contingency Plans

Drought-Public-Domain-300x204Once upon a time, much of the state of California was a barren desert.  And now, thanks to the worst drought in modern American history, much of the state is turning back into one.  Scientists tell us that the 20th century was the wettest century that the state of California had seen in 1000 years.  But now weather patterns are reverting back to historical norms, and California is rapidly running out of water.  It is being reported that the state only has approximately a one year supply of water left in the reservoirs, and when the water is all gone there are no contingency plans.  Back in early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the entire state, but since that time water usage has only dropped by 9 percent.  That is not nearly enough.  The state of California has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of total water a year since 2011, and we are quickly heading toward an extremely painful water crisis unlike anything that any of us have ever seen before.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti “is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine”.  What he has to say about the horrific drought in California is extremely sobering…

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

Are you starting to understand why so many experts are so alarmed?

For much more from Famiglietti, check out this 60 Minutes interview.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, essentially the entire state is suffering drought conditions right now.  And as you can see from the map below, most of the state is currently experiencing either the highest or the second-highest classification of drought…

US Drought Monitor California 2015

Nearly 40 million people live in the state of California at the moment.

What are they all going to do when the water is gone?

In some rural areas, reservoirs are already nearly bone dry.  And in other areas, the water quality has gone way down.  For example, in one Southern California neighborhood black water is now coming out of the taps…

Residents of a Southern California neighborhood are concerned about the fact that the water flowing out of the taps in their homes is the color black. That’s right; the water coming out of their faucets is indeed black — not gray, not cloudy — but black. Inky, opaque black water that the water company says is okay to drink.

Those who live in Gardena, California, are understandably skeptical when asked to consume water that strongly resembles crude oil or something emitted by a squid. The water reportedly also has an “odor of rotten eggs or sewer smell,” according to one resident.

Perhaps you don’t care about what happens to California.

Perhaps you believe that they are just getting what they deserve.

And you might be right about that.

But the truth is that this is a crisis for all of us, because an enormous amount of our fresh produce is grown in the state.

As I discussed in a previous article, the rest of the nation is very heavily dependent on the fruits and vegetables grown in California.  The following numbers represent California’s contribution to our overall production…

99 percent of the artichokes

44 percent of asparagus

two-thirds of carrots

half of bell peppers

89 percent of cauliflower

94 percent of broccoli

95 percent of celery

90 percent of the leaf lettuce

83 percent of Romaine lettuce

83 percent of fresh spinach

a third of the fresh tomatoes

86 percent of lemons

90 percent of avocados

84 percent of peaches

88 percent of fresh strawberries

97 percent of fresh plums

Without the agricultural production of the state of California, we are in a massive amount of trouble.

And of course there are other areas all over the globe that are going through similar things.  For instance, taps in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are running dry as Brazil experiences the worst drought that it has seen in 80 years.

The world simply does not have enough fresh water left at this point, and that is why water is being called “the new oil”.  The following comes from CBS News…

It’s been said that the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water. The Earth’s population has more than doubled over the last 50 years and the demand for fresh water — to drink and to grow food — has surged along with it. But sources of water like rainfall, rivers, streams, reservoirs, certainly haven’t doubled. So where is all that extra water coming from? More and more, it’s being pumped out of the ground.

Water experts say groundwater is like a savings account — something you draw on in times of need. But savings accounts need to be replenished, and there is new evidence that so much water is being taken out, much of the world is in danger of a groundwater overdraft.

And if scientists are right, what we are experiencing right now may just be the very beginning of our problems.  In fact, one team of researchers has concluded that the Southwestern United States is headed for a “megadrought” that could last for decades…

Scientists had already found that the Southwestern United States were at great risk of experiencing a significant megadrought (in this case meaning drought conditions that last for over 35 years) before the end of the 21st century. But a new study published in Science Advancesadded some grim context to those predictions.

Columbia University climate scientists Jason Smerdon and Benjamin Cook, and Cornell University’s Toby Ault were co-authors on the study. They took data from tree rings and other environmental records of climate from the Southwest and compared them to the projections of 17 different climate models that look at precipitation and soil moisture. When they made the comparison between past and future, they found that all the models agreed: the next big megadrought is coming, and it will be way worse than anything we’ve seen in over 1,000 years–including droughts that have been credited with wiping out civilizations.

Needless to say, along with any water crisis comes a food crisis.

Virtually everything that we eat requires a tremendous amount of water to grow.  And at this point, the world is already eating more food than it produces most years.

So what is going to happen to us as this water crisis gets even worse?

California Has Just One Year of Water Reserves, So… Water Cannons

watercannonsJay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a terrifying piece in the Los Angeles Times about the future of California’s water. According to Famiglietti, the state has just one year of water in reserves:

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

And it gets worse. Apparently we have no real plan for dealing with the continuation of our current drought. So what’s Famiglietti’s solution to this problem? Immediate mandatory water rationing, the acceleration of legislation that focuses on sustainability, and the creation of a new state task force to come up with long term solutions. Pffffft. Good luck.

That all sounds hard. Like really hard. Even in a state that didn’t have completely dysfunctional government, that would be hard. So may I suggest an idea from history?2

In the early 1950s a construction engineer by the name of Sidney Cornell proposed shooting man-made geysers from Northern California to Southern California. The illustration above ran in the October 1951 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine, showing how this whole thing was supposed to work. The system would leapfrog water down the state, with plants spaced one mile apart. Of course, with Northern California also struggling, we’ll have to pull that water from somewhere else. Alaska, maybe?

Yes, it’s a really idiotic idea. But it seems about as likely as getting anything done politically at any level in California’s government right now. Forget the Hyperloop. Bring on the water cannons!

Image by Frank Tinsley via Modern Mechanix blog

 

Southwest and Great Plains at risk of 21st century ‘mega-drought’

Global warming will bring the “unprecedented” risk of a decades-long mega-drought in the American Southwest and Great Plains during the second half of the century, researchers claim.

The forecast, which was published online Thursday in the new journal Science Advances, contrasts sharply with other recent assessments that report greater uncertainty about future droughts, according to study authors.

Mega-drought in our future?
Scientists say the American Southwest could be in for a mega-drought by the end of the century.
The researchers used historic tree ring data and three drought measures to conclude that there was at least an 80% chance of a 35-year-long drought occurring by the end of this century.

“Imagine a naturally occurring drought, such as the one occurring in California … imagine that going on for decades … that’s kind of a mega-drought,” said lead study author Benjamin Cook, a climatologist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Cook and his coauthors — Toby Ault, a geoscientist at Cornell University, and Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University — discussed their research at a San Jose teleconference Thursday.

Although many scientists agree that California’s current drought is the result of natural climate variability, and not the result of global warming, Cook and his colleagues said human-produced greenhouse gasses were increasing the likelihood of future droughts.

Higher temperatures, low precipitation and increased rates of evaporation would result in drier soils, they said.

The researchers said their model was based on predicted emissions, and that reductions in those emissions could mitigate future drying.

‘Hi, do you have water?’ In a Central Calif. town, answer is often no.
‘Hi, do you have water?’ In a Central Calif. town, answer is often no.
“We’re not necessarily locked into these levels of mega-drought risk if we slow the effects of rising greenhouse gas on global temperatures,” Ault said.

Very lengthy and extreme periods of drought have affected Southern California and much of the Western United States in the past, although long before the founding of the nation.

According to scientists, paleoclimatic evidence suggests that intense periods of dryness occurred in this region from the 9th to the 14th centuries, a period now called the Medieval Climate Anomaly.

Cook and his colleagues said future drought risk probably will exceed that of the Medieval Anomaly.

“Our results point to a remarkably drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation,” the authors wrote.

“Human populations in this region, and their associated water resource demands, have been increasing rapidly in recent decades, and these trends are expected to continue for years to come.”

Scientists warn of ‘mega-drought’ risk in western US

megadroughtLong-lasting mega-droughts could occur with increasing frequency in the western United States later this century if no action is taken to rein in climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, researchers said.

Mega-drought is defined as any drought as bad as the worst already seen in the 20th century, but lasting much longer, for 35 years or more.

The study is the first to predict that the coming intense dry spells could exceed the decades-long mega-droughts that occurred centuries ago and are blamed for the demise of certain civilizations in the late 13th century.

“I was honestly surprised at just how dry the future is likely to be,” said co-author Toby Ault, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.

“I look at these future mega-droughts like a slow moving natural disaster. We have to put mega-droughts into the same category as other natural disasters that can be dealt with through risk management.”

The risks and dangers are worse today because of the larger population and greater dependence on water resources, scientists warned.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“Even when selecting for the worst mega-drought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

– ‘Unfavorable’ forecast –

Researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising temperatures on regions from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

They also projected a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and looked at a scenario in which actions were taken to cut back on greenhouse gases resulting in lower emissions. Both approaches raised concern for the future.

“The results… are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas who was not involved in the study.

Currently the western United States has been experiencing a drought for about 11 of the past 14 years.

The dry area spans California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma and other parts of the region, directly affects more than 64 million people.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, and published in a new AAAS online journal called Science Advances

Record-Setting Drought Intensifies in Parched California

The relentless heat that has plagued the western half of the country this summer has ratcheted up California’s terrible drought once again, bringing it to record levels. More than half of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the highest category recognized by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which released its latest update on Thursday.

“The heat has been and continues to be a factor in drought expansion,” Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and this week’s Drought Monitor author, told Climate Central.

New information coming in about reservoir levels, stream flows and Record-Setting Drought Intensifies in Parched California prompted Rippey to increase the amount of California covered by exceptional drought to 58 percent from 34 percent (all of the state is in some level of drought). That is a record amount of the state covered by this level of drought since the Monitor began in 1990.

While the drought can’t be directly linked to climate change, the warming of the planet is expected to make already dry places drier. And future droughts could be even worse.

The current drought — which rivals the terrible drought of the late 1970s — has been 3 years in the making, as three successive winter wet seasons went by with below-normal rainfall. The paltry snowpack this year really intensified matters, and the persistent pattern of heat in the West and cold in the East has kept much of California baking all year. In fact, the state had its warmest first six months of a year on record this year. July has followed suit with, for example, San Francisco registering an uncharacteristic 90°F on July 25, a full 12°F above normal.

“Excessive heat this time of year leads to heavy irrigation demands, deteriorating rangeland and pasture conditions, and higher evaporation rates,” Rippey wrote in an email.

These effects of the heat further reduce reservoir levels and stream flows and can send more towns and farmers in search of groundwater to pump. Reports of such changes can slowly trickle in as the impacts intensify and give the Drought Monitor authors reason to upgrade the level of drought in an area, or in this case, over a large swath of Northern California.

Reservoir storage in the state currently sits at about 60 percent of its normal level, above the record low of 41 percent set in 1977, but short about a year’s worth of reservoir storage. That shortfall is the result of the abysmal rains over the past 3 years: From July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014, statewide precipitation averaged 45.05 inches, which was a record low.

“Effectively, only about 2 years of precipitation fell in that 3-year period from July 2011 to June 2014,” Rippey said.

(MORE: NASA Photos Show How Bad California’s Drought Has Gotten)

With such dismal numbers, water conservation is key.

“Conservation is certainly critical from this point forward, especially if drought-easing precipitation does not materialize during the 2014-15 cold season,” he said.

The state recently enacted mandatory water restrictions after a call for voluntary conservation failed to move the needle. For example, new regulations call for local agencies to fine anyone found wasting water up to $500 per day.

The depth of the drought and the heat have both helped fuel wildfires in the state, including a fire raging in Yosemite National Park that is 58 percent contained.

Officials have been hoping that a developing El Niño, currently foundering, would bring some relief in the form of winter rains this coming winter. But only strong El Niños are well correlated with rainier-than-normal conditions over Southern California, and this El Niño is looking less and less like it will be a strong one. However, even a weak or moderate El Niño could mean the wet season hits somewhat close to normal rainfall numbers.

The Drought Apocalypse Approaches As The Colorado River Basin Dries Up

Scientists on Thursday released a first-of-its-kind study that finds the seven states of the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin are depleting groundwater reserves at a rapid rate. That threatens the future of a river that supplies water to 40 million people and irrigates 4 million acres of farmland.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA analyzed data from a satellite that measures underground water reserves to calculate that the Colorado River Basin has lost 65 cubic kilometers—that’s 17.3 trillion gallons—of water between December 2004 and November 2013. That represents twice the capacity of the United States’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada. Most worrying, 75 percent of the loss came from groundwater supplies.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Stephanie Castle, the report’s lead author and a water resources specialist at UC Irvine, said in a statement. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Terrifying, actually. Groundwater reserves have accumulated over thousands of years and recharge at an exceedingly slow rate as rainwater and snowmelt seep into the ground. Rain is rare as the current drought enters its 15th year.

The data indicates that farmers and cities are pumping far more groundwater than can be replenished. At some point, the well will run dry.

“We observe a negative net change in groundwater storage over the 108-month time period [of the study], indicating that groundwater withdrawals (pumping) are not balanced by recharge and must be greater than the observed depletion rate,” Castle said in an email.

Once the seven states of the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—deplete their groundwater reserves beyond the point of no return, they will run out of options. Usually, the states rely on aboveground reservoirs like Lake Mead to help them weather dry years. But the water level at Lake Mead has fallen to a historic low, and other reservoirs are drying up fast.

It will get worse, especially as the region grows hotter because of climate change.

“The rapid rates of groundwater depletion will lead to further declines in Colorado River steam flows and, combined with declining snowpack and population growth, will likely threaten the long-term ability” to supply water to the seven states, said Castle.

With less water flowing into reservoirs, the states will keep pumping irreplaceable groundwater reserves. That “poses a significant threat to the long-term water security of the region,” concluded the report, which is to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

So what to do? First, fill in the data gap to figure out exactly how much water is left so decisions can be made about its management for the future. That’s where the satellite program called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment comes in. The satellite measures tiny changes in an area’s gravitational pull to determine its groundwater capacity.

“There’s only one way to put together a very large–area study like this, and that is with satellites,” Jay Famiglietti,  a coauthor of the report and a senior water cycle scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

7 States Running Out Of Water

In seven states drought conditions were so severe that each had more than half of its land area in severe drought. Severe drought is characterized by crop loss, frequent water shortages, and mandatory water use restrictions.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey, said that drought has been a long-running issue in parts of the country. “This drought has dragged on for three and a half years in some areas, particularly [in] North Texas,” Rippey said.

While large portions of the seven states suffer from severe drought, in some parts of these states drought conditions are even worse. In six of the seven states with the highest levels of drought, more than 30% of each state was in extreme drought as of last week, a more severe level of drought characterized by major crop and pasture losses, as well as widespread water shortages. Additionally, in California and Oklahoma, 25% and 30% of the states, respectively, suffered from exceptional drought, the highest severity classification. Under exceptional drought, crop and pasture loss is widespread, and shortages of well and reservoir water can lead to water emergencies.

Drought has had a major impact on important crops such as winter wheat. “So much of the winter wheat is grown across the southern half of the Great Plains,” Rippey said, an area that includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, three of the hardest-hit states. Texas alone had nearly a quarter of a million farms in 2012, the most out of any state, while neighboring Oklahoma had more than 80,000 farms, trailing only three other states.

In the Southwest, concerns are less-focused on agriculture and more on reservoir levels, explained Rippey. In Arizona, reservoir levels were just two-thirds of their usual average. Worse still, in New Mexico, reservoir stores were only slightly more than half of their normal levels. “And Nevada is the worst of all. We see storage there at about a third of what you would expect,” Rippey said.

The situation in California may well be the most problematic of any state. The entire state was suffering from severe drought as of last week, and 75% of all land area was under extreme drought. “Reservoirs which are generally fed by the Sierra Nevadas and the southern Cascades [are] where we see the real problems,” Rippey said. Restrictions on agricultural water use has forced many California farmers to leave fields fallow, he added. “At [the current] usage rate, California has less than two years of water remaining.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven states with the highest proportions of total area classified in at least a state of severe drought as of May 13, 2014. We also reviewed figures recently published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service as part of its 2012 Census of Agriculture.

California Wildfires

San Diego County remained under a state of emergency Thursday morning, as nine fires burned in a 14-square-mile area, fanned by hot, dry air and unusual springtime Santa Ana winds. Thousands of people have been evacuated and many schools across the city and the county have canceled classes until at least next week. New evacuations were ordered Thursday morning in San Marcos. Overall, about 21,000 people are out of their homes, including students who were in the middle of finals at a campus of California State University. The forecast is not promising for at least another day. “Relief is on the way, but it will be slow,” explained weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman. “Friday, the Santa Ana winds will finally cease, but it will remain quite warm. This weekend, however, onshore winds will bring temperatures back to mid-May averages, with 70s along the coast, along with higher humidity, morning low clouds and fog.” In Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, flames were shooting up along canyon ridges as thick black smoke darkened blue skies. A power outage closed the Legoland California amusement park. Carlsbad’s city government said eight homes, an eight-unit apartment complex and two businesses had been damaged. No serious injuries were reported. Here’s a look at the status of some of the largest, most-impactful fires: San Marcos/Cocos Fire – 700 acres and no containment; 21,000 evacuations Tomahawk Fire: 6,000 acres Poinsettia Fire: 400 acres Highway Fire – 600 acres; 5 percent contained Bernardo Fire: 1,550 acres; 50 percent contained Miguelito Fire: 600 acres; 80 percent contained The Tomahawk fire forced the evacuation of residents in military housing at Camp Pendleton, and the closure of an elementary school on the Marine Corps base. Another fire spread from a burning vehicle on coastal Interstate 5 to roadside brush near the northwest corner of the Marine base. Photos showed the Tomahawk fire line was close to structures. The Highway Fire spawned several firewhirls, also known as firenadoes or smokenadoes. Evacuations were ordered at Fallbrook, Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School and Camp Pendleton’s De Luz. As fire crept closer to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, about “a dozen non-essential employees evacuated,” Southern California Edison said in a tweet. The San Diego Unified School District and 21 smaller school districts in the county announced that classes would not be held Thursday, May 15. California State University San Marcos cancelled commencement ceremonies scheduled for this weekend. Meanwhile, crews were battling the Bernardo fire which started Tuesday and grew to more than 1,550 acres less than 24 hours after it began; crews said it was 25 percent contained. Evacuation orders were lifted for all of the more than 20,000 residents in and around San Diego on Tuesday night just a few hours after they were called, and all but a handful of the 1,200 homes and businesses told to evacuate in Santa Barbara County had been allowed to return.   “We believe we have a pretty good handle on it,” San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said. “We hope to do some more work through the night and into tomorrow, but I think the largest part of the emergency has passed.” By late afternoon, the flames ripped through canyons to approach expensive homes and new subdivisions on the ridges. It spread to Rancho Santa Fe, one of the nation’s wealthiest communities, known for its multimillion-dollar homes, golfing and horseback riding. At least two high schools and three elementary schools were evacuated Tuesday. The city of San Diego issued between 16,000 and 17,000 evacuation orders, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. Gore said the sheriff’s department issued an additional 5,000 evacuation orders outside city limits. All the evacuations were called off by about 9 p.m.   Elsewhere in California Meanwhile, in Santa Barbara County, firefighters say the Miguelito fire was 50 percent contained and had burned 600 acres. Heavy brush and downed power lines provided special challenges for the nearly firefighters, said David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Chrissy Cabral, 57, rounded up friends to help her remove 19 head of cattle she keeps at a local ranch after the fire shifted directions. She said firefighters warned her: “Get out now.” “It was very high flames, very dark,” she said. In Ventura County, the cities of Oxnard and Camarillo set all-time record highs for the month of May on Wednesday, reaching 102 degrees. The cities had never recorded triple-digit temperatures earlier in a year than June 11 previously. No major fires were reported in the county, but the Briggs Fire burned about 29 acres in an agricultural area near Santa Paula. In Los Angeles County, a fire on Interstate 405 in the San Fernando Valley was quickly put out Wednesday afternoon but not before blocking traffic on the major artery for a time. The Los Angeles Times said police detained a woman who may have been cooking underneath the freeway. Highs in Los Angeles proper Wednesday ranged from 96 at LAX and 99 downtown (both records) to 101 in Van Nuys. The Orange County Fire Authority reported a brief brush fire Monday. It was contained before it could reach any structures. A house fire Tuesday was aggravated by the dry winds, the authority said. Another brush fire popped up in the county Wednesday but there were no reports of damage. Crews will remain watchful as fire conditions remain conducive through the end of the week. “Beginning Friday, winds will begin to turn onshore, with much cooler 60s and 70s returning to the coast this weekend,” Erdman said. Heat advisories and high wind warnings remain in effect for many coastal regions of California.

Half of US Is In Drought

Half of the United States is experiencing drought, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. National Drought Monitor.

The drought is deepest in California and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, according to the latest drought map, released May 8. Most of California is in extreme or exceptional drought, and triple-digit heat was returning to Texas and Oklahoma, according to Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center, who penned a report on recent drought conditions. “This is not the recipe for recovery as the calendar pushes toward summer,” Svoboda wrote of the heat in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. “What winter wheat wasn’t damaged or killed off by recent hard freezes was left to bear the brunt of the heat and dryness this week, with little in the way of relief on the horizon.” The U.S. drought is concentrated in the Plains states and in the West, though Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Appalachians stretching from West Virginia into eastern Tennessee are all experiencing abnormal dryness. California has been in a state of drought for three years, and officials declared a state of emergency over the extreme lack of water in January. The final snow survey of the year, released May 1, revealed that the state’s snowpack is at only 18 percent of average for that date. The northern Sierra Nevadas were particularly hard hit, with only 7 percent of water content in the snowpack compared with the average. This Thursday, March 13, 2014 file photo shows cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir … Even worse, a survey from April 1, when snowpack moisture is at its peak, found only 32 percent of the water content compared with historical averages, according to California’s Department of Water Resources. As of April 25, the entire state of California was in some level of drought for the first time in the Drought Monitor’s 15-year history. Meanwhile, the state’s reservoirs are only at about half capacity, the Department of Water Resources warned, and the rainy season is largely over. New normal? Western droughts are part of the normal up-and-down of the landscape, but climate researchers warn that a parched West is likely to become more common as the globe warms. High temperatures make typical droughts worse, climate scientists say, and droughts have become more intense and longer in tropical and subtropical areas of the globe in the past 40 years. These changes threaten water supplies out West. They could also bring other nasty side effects, such as worsening wildfires. Western wildfires have become larger and more frequent in the last three decades, according to a study published online April 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions, which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections,” Max Moritz, a study co-author and fire specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Cooperative Extension, told Live Science at the time.

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Ongoing drought The U.S. drought is concentrated in the Plains states and in the West, though Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Appalachians stretching from West Virginia into eastern Tennessee are all experiencing abnormal dryness. California has been in a state of drought for three years, and officials declared a state of emergency over the extreme lack of water in January. The final snow survey of the year, released May 1, revealed that the state’s snowpack is at only 18 percent of average for that date. The northern Sierra Nevadas were particularly hard hit, with only 7 percent of water content in the snowpack compared with the average.

Even worse, a survey from April 1, when snowpack moisture is at its peak, found only 32 percent of the water content compared with historical averages, according to California’s Department of Water Resources. As of April 25, the entire state of California was in some level of drought for the first time in the Drought Monitor’s 15-year history. Meanwhile, the state’s reservoirs are only at about half capacity, the Department of Water Resources warned, and the rainy season is largely over. New normal? Western droughts are part of the normal up-and-down of the landscape, but climate researchers warn that a parched West is likely to become more common as the globe warms. High temperatures make typical droughts worse, climate scientists say, and droughts have become more intense and longer in tropical and subtropical areas of the globe in the past 40 years. These changes threaten water supplies out West. They could also bring other nasty side effects, such as worsening wildfires. Western wildfires have become larger and more frequent in the last three decades, according to a study published online April 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions, which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections,” Max Moritz, a study co-author and fire specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Cooperative Extension, told Live Science at the time.

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