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California's Drought: the Worst in a Millennium

Dec 05, 2014 01:32 PM EST
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California has been suffering from the same intermittent drought for the last three years that researchers have claimed is a perfect example of consequential climate change. Now it has been revealed that this is the worst drought the region has ever seen in at least a millennium.

That's according to a study recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which details how, of 66 prolonged dry periods within this last millennium alone, California's current drought is potentially the worst.

When considering dry periods lasting three years or more (up to nine years), it was also revealed that over the last 1,200 years there has only been three other droughts similar in nature to today's conditions.

This was all determined after scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Minnesota reconstructed California's temperature and precipitation history back to 800 AD using precipitation and tree ring data.

Stunningly, the resulting analysis revealed that this past summer, 2014, marked the worst single drought year out of about 1,200 recorded years. Worse still, there's a good chance it isn't going to end anytime soon. Approximately 44 percent of the recorded droughts went on to last four years or longer. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Flickr: Kevin Cortopassi)

Now here's where things get confusing. When California did get rain this year, it got a lot of it and all at once, which is quite a different scenario compared to past droughts. For instance, San Francisco has seen over 3.5 inches of rain since Monday, compared to Dec. 2013 when the city received a tenth of that over the whole month.

But even if it rains buckets a few days in a year, that cannot make up for overall dryness. According to the US Drought Monitor, through the National Drought Mitigation Center, California's ongoing drought has plunged a whopping 55 percent of the state into "exceptional drought conditions," which is the most severe classification.

And past research has shown that extreme weather patterns such as waves of drought interrupted by inconsistent, but heavy rains may soon become "business as usual" for some parts of the world, thanks to turbulent trade winds and shifting sea temperatures.

And in the wake of this change, California won't be likely to catch a break.

Last August, researchers at Cornell University revealed that this is just a taste of things to come, where the Southwestern US is facing good odds of a "Mega Drought" that could last for well over 30 years.

"This state is the epicenter of climate change," California Governor Jerry Brown said earlier this year, adding that he doesn't expect things to get better. Instead, he's asked that state officials and citizens alike learn to "adapt" to climate change, implementing new precautionary measures in the wake of some irreversible problems, drought included.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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