Commentary: Deadly dry and holding
As California faces what experts are calling the state’s worst drought in its entire history, some scientists are cautioning that the impact may be a harbinger for agriculture nationwide.
Gov. Jerry Brown raised the issue of causation in his State of the State address last week, according to the Associated Press, stating that, “We do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
Brown asked businesses and homeowners to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent to mitigate the effects of the drought and conserve water needed to fight brush fires and forest fires.
The more than 13 months of severely reduced precipitation has already had an immediate impact in terms of localized shortages and mandatory rationing. But the more serious longer-term damage is to agricultural productivity, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor.
Agriculture and energy generation account for 80 percent of the nation’s entire water usage, Prof. David Dzombak, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, told the magazine. Food and electricity, obviously, are two commodities modern society cannot do without.
A drought as severe as the current crisis in California needs to be a catalyst for renewed attention to how we manage a limited resource, Dzombak said.
“At the state, regional and federal levels, people are just starting to come to grips with the fact that our climate is not stationary,” Dzombak said. “We are in a dynamic, changing climate situation that will affect all parts of the country in different ways.”
Perhaps worst of all, according to climatologists, it does not appear that the atmospheric conditions causing this prolonged drought will be disappearing anytime soon.
The unseasonably dry weather is the result of an equally unprecedented high-pressure ridge stalled offshore in the Pacific Ocean, which is blocking the advance of the typical winter storms needed to generate precipitation along the West Coast, according to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb. Unfortunately, Fuchs told the CSM, the ridge has persisted for more than a year, and the longer it remains, the less likely it is to dissipate.
“This high-pressure ridge system is feeding on itself, creating a sort of perfect environment for perpetuating dry conditions,” he said.
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