California Drought, Worst In 1,200 Years

California’s three-year drought marks the worst the state has seen in 1,200 years, according to a study that was accepted for publication by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) on Thursday.

High temperatures, low precipitation, and other factors are to blame. The authors said in the study, “The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures.”

Researchers of the study were from the University of Minnesota and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The scientists reconstructed California’s temperature and precipitation history back to 800 A.D. using tree ring data. They found 66 dry periods of at least three to nine years, and only three of those droughts were similar to the current one. The year 2014 proved to be the worst single drought year.

The scientists concluded that the dry conditions of the region have shrunk the supply of surface water from reservoirs, streams, and Sierra Nevada snowpack well below the historical average.

Though three year droughts are not uncommon in California, this one is so severe because of its “cumulative severity.” As more people and farms need water, the current scarcity is affecting more people than droughts of the past.

The results of the study gain attention as California has a wet start to December. Accuweather reports the floods could result in 12-inches of rain and yards of snow over the next two weeks.

Meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services said that getting out of the drought will be a long, uphill battle. For example, in San Francisco, this year’s rainy season is two feet short of typical rainfall.

Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, said, “This recent wet pattern needs to continue and sustain itself over the coming months in order to really begin eroding away at those 3-year deficits.”

Federal officials are concerned about California’s drought because the state is a major producer of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dairy. If farmers can’t produce as much food because of temperatures and precipitation, then food prices will rise.

[Photo Credit: Kevin Cortopassi]