California drought: How water crisis is worse for almonds

An almond tree is lifted into a wood chipper after farmer Barry Baker decided to sacrifice 1,000 acres of trees to save water in Firebaugh (Fresno County).

An almond tree is lifted into a wood chipper after farmer Barry Baker decided to sacrifice 1,000 acres of trees to save water in Firebaugh (Fresno County).

Atwater, — Merced County – A huge shift away from annual crops to nut trees has transformed the California farm belt over the past two decades and left farmers perilously vulnerable to the severe drought that is currently gripping the state.

California farmers have spent past years busily ripping out lettuce, tomatoes and other annual crops in an attempt to sate the nation’s growing appetite for almonds, pistachios and other nuts.

The delicious perennials are lucrative, but the vast orchards that have been planted throughout the Central Valley require decades-long investments, year-round watering and a commitment from Mother Nature that she is evidently unwilling to make.

The crisis is a matter of crop flexibility. During droughts, farmers can fallow fields of lettuce and other crops, then replant them years later, picking up pretty much where they left off. That’s not an option for nut trees, which need 10 years of growing and a steady supply of water before they yield enough to pay for themselves.

“These orchards are more profitable, which is why the farmers do it,” said Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “It brings more money into California so there are a lot of good things about it, but the farmers have to be careful because a drought can be very tough on them.”

The result is that about one-third of California’s agricultural land is, Lund said, “very hard to fallow.”

Farmers are scrounging for every drop of water they can find – digging wells, tapping aquifers and finding alternative sources. But some are coming to the stark realization that, no matter what they do, there won’t be enough water to keep their trees alive.

Barry Baker has decided to sacrifice 1,000 acres of his Fresno County almond orchard so that he can keep the remaining 4,000 acres alive.

‘Huge economic loss’

“It’s a huge economic loss,” said Baker, who looked on forlornly this past week as workers felled his beloved trees. “That’s probably $10 million in revenue I lost right there, but with the price of water today, up to $2,500 per acre-foot, there is no way I could have found the water this year. A lot of guys are going to have to make that decision in the next couple of weeks.”

Baker is actually one of the lucky ones. He has enough well water on his property to keep his remaining trees alive without having to break the bank buying overpriced water from irrigation districts. A great many farmers south of the delta don’t have that luxury.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of trees die,” he said. “It’s going to break a lot of farmers.”

The switchover from annual crops to nuts has, by all accounts, been highly profitable. Nut production in California brings in $7 billion in sales every year, with almonds by far the biggest money maker, at $4.35 billion. Only grapes, which generated $4.45 billion, sold more.

The growth is, at least in part, because of the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which may also explain why U.S. consumption of olive oil has tripled over the past twenty years. The average American eats 1.8 pounds of almonds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a 36 percent increase since 2008. Consumption of walnuts, pistachios and pecans has also increased.

Extreme drought areas

Most of the orchards have been planted in areas suffering from what meteorologists call “extreme drought.”

“An increase in the planting of permanent crops since California’s last drought episode in 2009 is one reason we have concerns that this drought has the potential to be significantly worse,” said Steve Lyle, the spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

About 3 million of the 9 million or so acres of irrigated agriculture in California are now orchards and vineyards, according to the experts. The Golden State is the nation’s top producer of tree nuts, with almonds far outpacing everything else.

 

Humberto Hernandez uses an excavator to place a dead almond tree into a wood chipper as the sun rises March 14, 2014 on a former block of almond trees on the land of Baker Farming in Firebaugh, Calif. Barry Baker decided late last year to pull up 1,000 acres of his almond trees to save water during the drought.

Humberto Hernandez uses an excavator to place a dead almond tree into a wood chipper as the sun rises March 14, 2014 on a former block of almond trees on the land of Baker Farming in Firebaugh, Calif. Barry Baker decided late last year to pull up 1,000 acres of his almond trees to save water during the drought.

There are more than 800,000 acres of almonds in California compared with 418,000 acres in 1995. Production also doubled, from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion in 2013. California produces 82 percent of the world’s almonds, which are neck and neck with grapes as the highest valued crop in the United States.

Meanwhile, most field crops have been cut back. There was, for instance, 1.5 million acres of cotton in California 25 or 30 years ago. Now there is only 300,000 to 400,000 acres, said Daniel Sumner, of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California at Davis.

Dairymen, ranchers hurt

The situation is also bad for dairy farmers and ranchers, according to Pete Craig, who owns a large cattle ranch near Lake Berryessa. He said the planting of almond orchards has taken thousands of acres of grazing land away from ranchers, many of whom are selling cattle because of a lack of feed.

“My company has lost over 8,000 acres of grasslands that I leased for cattle grazing to almonds in the last year alone,” said Craig, who believes it is bad for the environment to replace California’s diverse grassland ecosystem with a monoculture. “It is impossible to compete against a very realistic $5,000 acre net return for a tree farmer, versus a $15 acre return on native rangeland, and perhaps a $100 acre return on irrigated ground to a cattle rancher. If you were a landowner, what would you do?”

Almonds have always been big in California. The Golden State, with its Mediterranean climate, is the world’s top producer of the nut. Still, the recent expansion of the almond industry has been unprecedented, and there lies the problem.

Almond trees must get 3 to 4 acre-feet of water per acre every year or nut production will decrease for an extended period of time. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.

“When you cut back on water, it stresses the tree, and when an almond tree is under stress, it produces fewer nuts,” said David Baker, the director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers, an agricultural cooperative that specializes in marketing almonds. “The problem is, they will not recover for 3 or 4 years even if the drought breaks.”

Replacing almonds with a different crop is not normally a viable option. It costs as much as $6,000 an acre to plant an almond orchard and raise the trees until they are 5 years old, about the time it takes them to begin producing almonds. It takes about a decade before the orchard produces enough almonds to pay for itself, according to farmers.

“Almonds are a huge investment,” said Craig Arnold, who grows almonds on 800 acres of his 1,200-acre farm in Atwater (Merced County) that his great grandfather, Lawrence, built after leaving San Francisco following the earthquake in 1906.

The Merced Irrigation District, which gets its water from nearly empty Lake McClure, recently told Arnold he would be getting only about 6 inches of water per acre this year. Arnold said almonds and peaches require at least 30 inches of water per acre, which is the amount he received last year.

Can’t afford to let trees die

“We have been trying to figure out what we are going to do,” Arnold said recently as he stood near the family farmhouse, which he oversees with his father and uncle. “It’s the almonds and the peaches that I worry about. I can choose not to plant everything else for a year, but I can’t afford to let the trees die.”

Arnold’s plan right now is to leave fallow 250 acres of sweet potatoes and squash and use the water to keep his almonds and peaches alive. He has already converted 75 percent of his orchards to low volume drip or micro sprinkler irrigation and recently hired workers to refurbish an old well on his property that hasn’t been used in decades.

Farmers are, in fact, sinking a large number of new wells across the state, but irrigating with well water can be problematic. Harmful salts and minerals from the aquifer can kill trees and damage crops. Wells can also cause the water table to drop, creating a whole new set of problems.

Nut prices to rise

It is a balancing act that thousands of farmers are now facing. One thing that is certain is that there will be huge economic losses and the price of almonds and other nuts will go up as production goes down.

“I have heard that between 200,000 and 250,000 acres will have significant reductions in production as a result of water shortages,” said Dan Cummings, who grows 4,000 acres of almonds in Butte, Colusa and Glenn counties. “California produces almost 2 billion pounds of almonds. Think about it. If 200 million pounds of that is not produced, that’s $700 million that doesn’t go to the farmer. It’s huge.”

And it could actually get worse before it gets better.

“Another year of this and you will see even the people who planned ahead getting hurt really bad,” said Baker, the farmer who cut down 1,000 acres of orchard just so he could stay afloat another year. “It will really be a disaster next year.”

Cloud seeding: What it can and can’t do for water shortages

Technology has come a long way, but it’s still no ‘drought buster,’ expert says

Cloud seeding: What it can and can't do for water shortages

Cloud seeding: What it can and can’t do for water shortages

Want more snow? Probably not, if you’re on the East Coast. But in drought-prone Arizona, they’re working on it.

The Central Arizona Project (CAP), the agency that controls and operates the canal that redirects water from the Colorado River into Arizona, is researching snow-making techniques made possible by cloud seeding, AZCentral.com reports. The project could pump up Arizona’s water supply by 5 to 10 percent.

Cloud seeding is not a particularly new technology, but the science of it today “is substantially different than what folks were doing in the ’70s, when cloud seeding was oversold as a technology,” Chuck Cullom, a geologist and CAP’s Colorado River program manager, told Yahoo News.

But does it work? Cullom said he’s careful about exaggerations, but “the state of the science and the state of the technology today indicates that a well-operated cloud seeding program can increase snow production in a storm. The peer-reviewed science journal articles support that statement. That wasn’t true 20 years ago.”

What’s changed? “The reason it’s different is we have better instruments that tell us which clouds [and] which storm events are susceptible to improving their snow productivity.”

That’s not a cure for lack of rain, though, Cullom said. “Cloud seeding is not a drought buster. Its focus is on increasing normal year snowpack. We’re making the snow formation in the cloud more efficient.”

The generators that produce an aerosol that acts as a catalyst are based on the ground. When placed on a high enough surface, like a mountain, they can almost touch the bottom of a cloud. “We just turn on the generators to introduce the aerosol and start the snow formation or increase the snow formation.”

The process doesn’t produce moisture, however, or make clouds. “Cloud seeding doesn’t stop a low snow year, but it can make a normal year better and a dry year not so horrible,” Cullom said.

The Rio Grande has run dry – March 19th, 2014

 

The Rio Grande in New Mexico March 19th, 2014

The Rio Grande in New Mexico March 19th, 2014

In this March 19, 2013, file photo, a trickle of water left in the Rio Grande is pushed downstream by the wind near the chile growing community of Hatch, N.M. In southern New Mexico, the mighty Rio Grande has gone dry, and farmers are worried about dwindling water supplies as the state enters its third straight year of drought. Top climate scientists are gathering in Japan this week to finish up a report on the impact of global warming. And they say if you think climate change is only faced by some far-off polar bear decades from now, well, you’re mistaken. They say the dangers of a warming Earth are immediate and human. While it doesn’t say these events were caused by climate change, the report mentions droughts in northern Mexico and south-central United States, as showing how vulnerable people are to these weather extremes.

Warmest winter on record worsens California drought

Warmest winter on record worsens California drought

A sercret service agent looks over a farm field as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California's drought situation in Los Banos

A sercret service agent looks over a farm field as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California’s …

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California is coming off of its warmest winter on record, aggravating an enduring drought in the most populous U.S. 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 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 of rainfall, compared to 11.7 inches 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.

California drought: Who gets water, who doesn’t, fuels calls for change

As the Imperial Valley, with access to out-of-state water, thrives, stricken Central Valley farmers are striking over state water restrictions. As water shortages turn dire, age-old contracts are suspect.

 

California’s drought may be statewide, but for now, depending on where you live, the experience of the state’s worst water shortage in history is significantly uneven.

Residents of the tiny northern town of Willits, for instance, who rely on reservoirs that have run dangerously low, are just now back down to a Phase 4 water emergency (out of a possible five) with mandatory conservation measures, such as a 35 percent usage cut and a ban on all new water hookups. The town of some 5,000 tops the state’s Department of Health list for communities that are in danger of running out of water.

At the same time, farther south, farmers in the Imperial Valley who still have access to a steady supply of water shipped in from the Colorado River, are busily tending fields of alfalfa, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce, among other crops.

The reasons for these disparities are historically complex, with many contracts drawn up decades ago. In the case of Los Angeles, they can also be controversial – as anyone who has seen Hollywood’s take on southern California water wars in “Chinatown” (1974) might agree.

Even as Imperial Valley farmers are surviving the drought, Central Valley farmers, who do not have access to out-of-state water and must rely on state water allocations, are striking this week over tightening water restrictions.

But the one thing farmers and city-dwellers can agree on is that as population pressures increase, these water shortages are likely to grow worse.

As California tackles the thorny problems of balancing urban and agricultural water demands, the state is helping chart a road map for the rest of the country, says David Cassuto, an expert in water law and professor at Pace Law School in White Plains, N.Y. “Every time California has a drought, there is a revisiting of these urban agricultural contracts and some changes are made,” he says.

But this time, the situation is more dire.

“Will this drought emergency bring about more significant changes?” he asks. “The answer is that it needs to. There is no question that this drought has provided a more urgent wakeup call than any in the past, because it is more severe. It’s not if, but when and how.”

The contracts will have to be revisited, he says, “because there is simply no way anyone has come up with to sustain current contracts and patterns.”

Such talk sends a chill through the hearts of multigenerational farmers of the Imperial Valley, such as Jack Vessey, whose father and grandfather tended the lands he now farms. He and many of his fellow businessmen fear that, once again, when water runs short, agriculture will lose out to urban needs.

“The cities have much more political power than the farmers,” he says. The Imperial Valley contract for Colorado River water was amended a decade ago to sell water to a needy San Diego, and many farmers mow must fallow thousands of acres a year to meet the terms of the sale to San Diego. Overall, the nonprofit California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC) estimates that water shortages statewide will drive some 800,000 farm acres into fallow this year.

Mr. Vessey is quick to counter what he feels is a false perception that farmers are wasteful with water. “We are far more efficient than in the past,” he says, noting innovations such as as drip irrigation.

The overall agriculture industry has boosted production per acre-foot of water by some 85 percent since 1967, with a 14 percent reduction in actual water use, according to the CFWC.

Equally damaging, notes Vessey, is the perception gap about the importance of what agriculture does. “We provide half the nation’s produce,” he says, in addition to providing work for the local economy. “We have around 400 workers here whose jobs depend on these crops,” he adds.

Vessey suggests there is a “serious disconnect” between farmers and urban dwellers, and that this leads to talks of cutting off water supplies to farmlands in favor of the major cities. “Kids these days think milk and bread just comes from stores,” he says. Initiatives sponsored by Imperial Valley farmers to counter the education gap include putting gardens in urban schools, he says.

The farmers’ concerns make sense, says Doug Parker, director at the California Institute for Water Resources at the University of California. He expects “long-run re-allocations, though we may be talking decades into the future,” he says via e-mail. On the flip side, he says he does not believe that the agricultural community appreciates how much the urban sector is spending to increase or stabilize their own water supplies.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Los Angeles uses the same amount of water it did in 1970, despite adding a million residents since then. The area’s Metropolitan Water District has invested in new reservoirs and underground water banks, meaning L.A. may not need to impose water rationing for at least another two years.

However, Mr. Parker adds, there is also “an urban belief that agriculture can just produce more food with less water.” Agriculture is far more efficient than it was 30 years ago, he points out.

Nonetheless, combined consumption by agriculture, industry, and municipalities continues to outstrip the savings, exacerbated by population growth in both urban and rural areas, says Kaplan University professor Lynn Wilson, who is serving on a climate change delegation to the United Nations. Perhaps the “disconnect” between urban and agricultural water use is in part perception; each needs the other to thrive in the interconnected economy and society, she says via e-mail. “Perhaps a new way of looking at water needs to be considered.”

Indeed, if this drought is teaching anything, it is the importance of shifting from long-distance water use to local water practices, says Hadley Arnold, cofounder and director of the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif. She says we have been relying on importing water over large distances for a large portion of our water supplies for centuries, she says, “but that’s going to shift.”

The move to localize water supplies will happen through a mix of initiatives, she says.

“We are going to start to see a combination of conservation, water recycling, and multitiered treatment levels and, importantly, storm water reclamation and capture over time that will reverse the proportions,” shifting the needs for imported water to more local usage, says Ms. Arnold.

In drought-stricken California, court rules smelt fish get water

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A California appeals court sided with environmentalists over growers on Thursday and upheld federal guidelines that limit water diversions to protect Delta smelt, in a battle over how the state will cope with its worst drought in a century.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court should not have overturned recommendations that the state reduce exports of water from north to south California. The plan leaves more water in the Sacramento Delta for the finger-sized fish and have been blamed for exacerbating the effects of drought for humans.

Reaction from both sides was swift in the national political issue. In a blog post, Damien Schiff, an attorney for growers, said the ruling “bodes ill for farmers, farm laborers and millions of other Californians dependent on a reliable water supply.”

Efforts to save the Delta smelt, which lives only in the wetlands stretching north of San Francisco, have been described as a humans versus fish battle.

Kate Poole, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said growers’ hopes of taking more water out of the Delta wouldn’t solve California’s problems.

“It’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year,” Poole said in a statement. “While we can’t make it rain, we can take charge of our water use by investing in smart water practices that protect and preserve our water supply.”

At issue is a 2008 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which concluded that the fish’s existence was threatened and recommended limited exports of water to farmers and southern California. Farmers and allies sued, and a lower court called the federal biological opinion “arbitrary and capricious.”

However, in the opinion on Thursday, 9th Circuit Judge Jay Bybee ruled that the lower court should have been more deferential to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bybee, an appointee of President George W. Bush, is considered a consistent conservative voice on the 9th Circuit.

“We recognize the enormous practical implications of this decision,” Bybee wrote. “But the consequences were prescribed when Congress determined that ‘these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.'”

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which represented wildlife regulators, said it was pleased with the ruling.

Paul Weiland, an attorney who represented Kern County Water Agency and a coalition of Central Valley water users in the case, said he hopes the ruling will clear the way for all sides to come together and make progress on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The plan seeks to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystems and secure California water supplies into the future. A draft of the plan is currently open for public comment.

“While these cases are pending it is difficult for the parties to make concessions,” he said. “To the extent that this hits the reset button, it works to everyone’s advantage in the sense that the parties don’t have to be sticking to their litigation positions anymore.”

That progress could be delayed if one or more of the parties in the case ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case or ask for a Supreme Court review, Weiland said.

Thursday’s ruling could also pave the way for a ruling in a pending case involving the water needs of wild salmon and steelhead trout in the state, which involves many of the same players. A February hearing on that case was postponed until after the Delta smelt decision was handed down.

The Delta smelt case in the 9th Circuit is San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority et al. vs. Sally Jewell et al., 11-15871.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Additional reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Stephen Powell, Peter Henderson and Richard Chang)

Fairbanks, Alaska council passes resolution about radiation concern

Pacific Currents flowing Fukushima Radiation to Alaska

Pacific Currents flowing Fukushima Radiation to Alaska

FAIRBANKS — The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is getting attention from both Fairbanks local governments on the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami.

By a unanimous vote Monday, the Fairbanks City Council passed a resolution urging the state and federal government, as well as the United Nations, to do more radiation testing in Alaska waters.

The resolution was introduced by Fairbanks City Mayor John Eberhart and had the support of the council and several people who came to testify. Among them was John Davies, a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. Davies said he was concerned about radiation from Japan spreading to salmon he dip nets for at Chitina. He told the City Council that he plans to introduce a similar resolution before the borough assembly.

“I don’t personally have evidence that there’s a problem right now, but there’s enough concern out there that I would like to know the answers,” he said.

Earlier this year, Larry Hartig, the state commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, testified for lawmakers in Juneau about Fukushima radiation. Hartig said radiation levels were at a tiny fraction of the levels required to cause health problems. People ingest more radiation from eating a banana than from eating a tuna from the North Pacific Ocean, he said.

Concern about Fukuskima radiation also was raised at the Tanana Chiefs Conference convention Tuesday in Fairbanks.

P.J. Simon, a delegate from Allakaket, said possible radiation in migrating salmon posed a risk to subsistence activities. He urged both Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, who spoke at the convention via video conference, to support investigation of the issue.

Both Alaska senators said there isn’t evidence that harmful levels of radiation are making it to Alaska or its food supply. But they agreed that ongoing federal monitoring efforts should continue to make sure a radiation threat doesn’t emerge.

“We need to be vigilant on this,” Murkowski said.

More Fukushima Updates Courtesy of FUKULEAKS.ORG

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Almost 95% of the state of California remains in a drought, the same as last week.

El Nino makes a return to the Pacific OceanThe storms that walloped California last week slightly eased the state’s epic drought, but the state is still drastically short of moisture, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports.

“Short-term benefits from the storms were mostly offset by still-large, three-year precipitation deficits, low reservoir levels and a sub-par snowpack,” according to this week’s Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought across the country.

The monitor shows that 94.56% of the state of California remains in a drought, the same as last week. However, the area of “exceptional” drought — the worst category, in dark red on the map — dropped from 26.21% to 22.37%.

The “blockbuster” storm last week and weekend did avert a record-breaking season for dryness in California, according to meteorologist Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, author of this week’s monitor. The storm brought “drought-easing rainfall to coastal areas and beneficial snow in the Sierra Nevada,” Rippey wrote.

One spot in the central Sierra picked up 4 feet of snow from the storm, while reports of 2-3 of snow were common across much of the central and southern Sierra, according to the National Weather Service.

“In addition, rain in California’s agricultural regions temporarily eased irrigation requirements and aided drought-stressed rangeland and winter grains,” he said. The storms accounted for more than 75% of the season-to-date precipitation in cities such as Burbank (which picked up 4.78 inches) and Los Angeles (4.52). On Feb. 28, Los Angeles — with 2.24 inches — experienced its wettest day since March 20, 2011.

“However, spring and summer runoff prospects improved only slightly, as pre-storm snowpack values were near record lows and because drought-parched soils soaked up most of the available moisture,” Rippey reported. “In addition, the storm moved too far south to provide optimal amounts of moisture in California’s key watershed areas, with the heaviest precipitation occurring in coastal and southern California rather than the Sierra Nevada.”

While the worst of the drought is in California, much of the rest of the West and a large part of the Plains also are enduring some level of drought. Almost the entire USA east of the Mississippi River remains drought-free.

Looking ahead for the next week or so, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) predicts that most of the western USA, including California, will experience warm, mostly dry weather.

Long-term, the CPC also predicted Thursday a “50% chance” of a weak El Nino climate pattern developing later in the year. El Nino, a warming of tropical Pacific Ocean water, affects weather in the USA and around the world. Impacts in the U.S. sometimes include a calmer Atlantic hurricane season and additional precipitation for the West and South.

However, an El Nino was predicted in 2012, yet never formed. Also, as noted by meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services, El Ninos don’t automatically deliver more precipitation to California:

“Historical records for the past six decades for central California, including the Bay Area, show that during the 18 El Nino events, the rainfall has been above normal half the time and below normal the other half.” Null wrote on his website.