Saturday, October 11, 2014

California Drought Animation

A Scary Scenario in California

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Animation has real power when harnessed for important purposes. While we often view it as simply a tool to entertain, it also can be used to organize vast quantities of data in a way that is easy to understand at a glance. The animation above from The Weather Channel shows data that fills multiple loose-leaf binders and many files on hard drives. It processes that data from widely separated locations so that we easily can see the normal cycle of drought - and the abnormal one that is confronting California these days.

While the animation is cool by itself, if you are interested, read on about what it represents.

A real Crisis


The California drought is one of those situations where, if it doesn't affect you directly, it is easy to simply ignore it. However, the drought is a real problem for everyone - California provides a huge fraction of the nation's food supply, among many other things.

You have to look at that animation a few times to really see what is going on. If you stare at it, patterns emerge. The animation was created by stringing together weekly California drought observations from the United States Drought Monitor for more than 13 years, beginning in 2001. During that time, various cycles of drought happened, but the recent one of the past few years is unprecedented.

Feast and Famine

California is a state that goes through annual precipitation cycles. For seven months out of the year, there is little snow and rain. Beginning in November, though, changes in the jet stream push moisture over the state and for the next five months California's mountains and waterways replenish with water.

San Francisco is typical. The city experiences 85 percent of its yearly rainfall in just five months. When everything is normal, all is well - it's natural to get the moisture during the winter months.

The problem is when something goes awry with the weather pattern. When wet seasons isn't wet, California starts to dry up and water levels drop. That is what has happened since 2011.

A Building Catastrophe

The past two years have seen a building weather catastrophe in California. A ridge of high pressure developed over the Pacific Northwest in January 2013, cutting off the jet stream that usually funnels storms to the state from November to March. Since the rainy season begins in November, California got some but not all of its moisture in 2013. The missing three months was tremendously important, but it if had gone way, everything would have corrected.

Unfortunately, it didn't leave. The ridge of high pressure was dubbed the "ridiculously resilient ridge" because it stopped dead. In fact, it is still there today, as it continued to linger over the Pacific Northwest through the next wet season in 2013/2014 and throughout this past summer. It is showing signs of sticking around for the 2014/2015 wet season as well. That would be bad.

2013 turned into California's driest year ever recorded, with San Francisco, which usually averages 23.65 inches of rain a year, only receiving 5.60. The same patterned happened in drier Southern California, too, with Los Angeles, which averages nearly 15 inches of rain a year, only receiving 3.6 inches fall. 2014 could be just as bad.

Missing one wet season was bad. Missing two wet seasons was disastrous: California's wells started running dry, land started sinking and some waterways all but emptied. The pictures below show the result.

Getting Worse Every Day

The animation above shows that California's drought is only worsening in 2014. The deep burgundy -- which represents exceptional drought, the drought monitor's worst such measure -- slowly consumed the state. As of this writing, nearly 60 percent of California's land -- 50 out of California's 58 counties -- area is mired in exceptional drought.

Missing most of the 2012/2013 season was not so bad. At this same time last year, none of California's land was in exceptional drought, as the animation shows. However, the loss of 2013/2014 was incredibly harmful.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide emergency in January 2014. This mobilized state agencies to implement drastic statewide conservation efforts, including fines for water wasting. It didn't do much good: the first report released by the State Water Resources Control Board since water wasting fines went into place showed that Californians used 7.5 percent less water in July 2014 compared to July 2013. That isn't enough of a drop. But in fact, even that didn't really happen: further analysis by Southern California Public Radio showed that cities in Southern California, particularly those in the Los Angeles area, have actually increased their water consumption year-to-year.

So, in the middle of the worst drought in history, with lakes emptying and reservoirs disappearing, the people of Los Angeles are actually using more water than before.

If the ridge of high pressure lingers over California yet again in the coming wet season, California's drought easily could reach even more dangerous levels. However, people need a wake-up call about how serious it is. So, below are some before and after shots just to show the facts.


Before/After Shots


The "before" shots below were taken during the summer of 2011. The "after" shots were during August 2014. Everything looks so clean and neat in the pictures that it is easy to think all is well - but it isn't. Those lower water levels represent immense quantities of acre-feet of water. It is not a question of some boat owners being inconvenienced, but of whether farmers have water to grow the food you are going to eat next spring.

In the first comparison, the Green Bridge passes over low water levels at a section of Lake Oroville near the Bidwell Marina on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet, a unit of measurement used to describe large water bodies. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Next, low water levels are visible in the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

The Enterprise Bridge passes over a section of Lake Oroville nearly dry on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Low water levels are visible in the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Low water levels are visible in the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. That is the Enterprise bridge (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com


The Green Bridge passes over low water levels at a section of Lake Oroville near the Bidwell Marina on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

California drought animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Low water levels are visible behind the Oroville Dam at Lake Oroville on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)



Low water levels are visible in the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville on August 19, 2014, in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)



Low water levels are visible behind the Folsom Dam at Folsom Lake on August 19, 2014, in El Folsom, California. Folsom Lake is currently at 40 percent of its total capacity of 977,000 acre feet. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)




2014

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