This year’s Groundhog Day was symbolic in more ways than one. When Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow on February 2nd, he did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring. In the Southwest US, his prediction has so far come true. Despite early hopes in January that the strong Pacific El Niño would help bring an end to the drought, February has so far been a bust. The National Weather Service reports that globally, January 2016 was the hottest on record and that temperatures across the Southwestern US reached records. In some parts of California and the desert Southwest, temperatures have been between 15 to 25 degrees hotter than average. As the temperatures have risen, precipitation amounts have fallen. While forecasters believe that the storms may return with some intensity in March, a ridge of high pressure has come into place that blocked storms from tracking through California and the Southwest US. These patterns are reminiscent of the El Niño predictions in 2014 and 2012 that never showed up. But unfortunately, much like Bill Murray’s character woke up to the same day over and over again, the California remains in the midst of exceptional drought conditions month after month. Continue reading
We have all read about the negative effects of the drought on businesses and citizens. Farmers left an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 acres of land fallow during the year, causing approximately $1.7 billion in economic damages. Despite all of the damages, I did find one industry that is actually relishing in the drought: For all you California and Oregon wine lovers, you might want to stock up on the 2014 vintage. The Wall Street Journal reports that growers in California and Oregon believe that the 2014 vintage may be some of the best wines in the last few years. Unlike some other important crops in California, grape vines are in general very drought tolerant. In some areas, grape vines receive little to no irrigation. Also, the hot, dry weather naturally reduced grape yields. The grapes that did grow have much more concentrated sugars, leading to bolder flavors and better tasting wines.
While wine lovers may be rejoicing at the drought, Mother Nature has been much crueler to the wildlife that call the Western United States home. The drought has caused stress on wildlife populations ranging from ducks to salmon. The effects of the drought on wildlife have also brought on some contentious debate over the best and highest use of limited water resources. In this piece, I will look at some of the issues facing salmon populations in California that are feeling the effects of the drought. Next week, I will look at issues surrounding the protection of the Delta Smelt and will explore whether there is a happy medium between our water consumption and wildlife protection. Continue reading