California’s Drought

These are dry times for the Golden State. Explore California's historic drought in this multimedia series.

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Why California’s Drought is America’s Problem

Despite a few recent downpours, California remains stuck in one of the most severe statewide droughts on record.

But it’s far from just California’s problem. The state produces a huge percentage of the nation’s agriculture — nearly half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts, by some estimates. And that requires a massive amount of water: farms here use about 80 percent of the state’s developed water supply.

Much is riding on the upcoming rainy season. Because if not enough water remains valuable for farmers to adequately irrigate their land, the impact will likely be felt far beyond the state’s borders.
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Burned Out: Why Western Wildfires Have Gotten Bigger, Hotter and More Out of Control [Comic]

The 2014 fire season was predicted to be a doozy, and so far it hasn’t failed to disappoint. Prolonged drought conditions throughout the West, felt particularly hard across the Golden State, have resulted in a string of large, destructive and extremely costly blazes, charring huge swaths of forest in Northern California and the Northwest and leaving local and federal fire prevention agencies dangerously strapped for staffing, funding and resources. As of September 4, over 38,000 fires had been reported since the beginning of 2014, burning more than 2.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Why has fire season gotten so much longer, more dangerous and increasingly expensive? Comic journalist Andy Warner explains the heated history. Continue reading

What Does Climate Change in California Look Like? [Infographic]

Includes infographic
California Environmental Protection Agency (full-size graphic below)

California Environmental Protection Agency (full-size graphic below)

Be it torrential rains or severe droughts, huge wildfires or rising sea-levels, every corner of the United States has been — and will continue to be — impacted by the effects of human-induced climate change.

That’s the scenario presented last week by a team of scientists who described a series of sweeping environmental changes of near biblical proportions.

The government report, known as the National Climate Assessment, notes that many of these changes have resulted from an average temperature increase of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. It warns that U.S. temperatures could increase by more than 10 degrees by the end of this century if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. Continue reading

Rationing the Rain: How California Distributes Its Water in Dry Times

Includes cartoon infographic

Distributing enough water to everyone has never been an easy task in perennially thirsty California. But making sure that residents, farms and the environment are all sufficiently hydrated becomes a particularly difficult balancing act during prolonged periods of drought. Simply put, there’s just not enough to go around. Cartoon journalist Andy Warner — whose last piece focused on California agriculture — explains the complicated math of water distribution in the Golden State. View below as a slideshow or full graphic.  Continue reading

Parched Produce: California Agriculture in a State of Drought

Includes cartoon infographic

These are bone dry times for California. Even with the recent rains, the state is still mired in one of its worst droughts in recorded history. And that spells trouble for the vast agriculture industry here. Cartoon journalist Andy Warner explains. View it as a slideshow or in full-length format below. Continue reading

How Serious Is the California Drought? These Satellite Images Say It All

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0125-SierraNevada_CA_drought

NASA satellite imagery comparing California’s snowpack in January 2013 to January 2014. GIF animation created by Rhett A. Butler_Mongabay.com.


If you live in California, snowpack is a pretty crucial part of your existence.

That’s because about a third of the state’s water supply comes from snow that accumulates in the mountains, mostly during the winter months. In fact, California receives roughly half of its entire year’s water supply between December and February alone. Continue reading

How Much Water Do Californians Use and What Does A 20 Percent Cut Look Like?

Includes interactive charts
A parched Folsom Lake,  at less than 20 percent of capacity (photo courtesy of National Weather Service).

A parched Folsom Lake, at less than 20 percent of capacity (photo courtesy of National Weather Service).


This is not a good time for California’s umbrella industry.

2013 was one of the driest years on record in the state. And January  — usually among the wettest months — has failed to provide any relief. With the precipitous drop in reservoir levels, Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a statewide drought emergency, calling this “perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,”

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