Lessons learned from the end of California’s “permanent drought”

Summary: The “permanent drought” in California, like the now ended “permanent drought” in Texas, is ending. But like the panic about Texas, it is rich in lessons about our difficulty clearly seeing the world — and the futility of activists exaggerating and lying about the science. Of course, they should have learned this after 29 years of trying (starting from James Hansen’s 1988 Senate testimony).

California drought

Warnings of a permanent drought in California

Remember all those predictions of a “permanent drought” in California? Those were examples of why three decades of climate alarmism has not convinced the American people to take severe measures to fight anthropogenic climate change: alarmists exaggerate the science, and are proven wrong — repeatedly. When will the Left learn that doomster lies do not work?

Wired, May 2016: “Thanks El Niño, But California’s Drought Is Probably Forever“. “California is still in a state of drought. For now, maybe forever.” The article gives no support — none — for this clickbait claim. In January Wired attempted to weasel away from their claims by defining drought to mean needing more water than nature provides (“A Wet Year Won’t Beat California’s Never-Ending Drought“). Orwell nodded, unsurprised.

The NYT did no better in “California Braces for Unending Drought“, May 2016. The closest the article comes to supporting their headline is an odd statement by Governor Brown:  “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence…”  Drought has always been a regular occurrence in California. The governor also said that “California droughts are expected to be more frequent and persistent, as warmer winter temperatures driven by climate change reduce water held in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and result in drier soil conditions.” That is probable. But it is quite mad for the NYT to call more frequent droughts “an unending drought.”

Status of the California drought

“During the past week, a series of storms bringing widespread rain and snow showers impacted the states along the Pacific Coast and northern Rockies. In California, the cumulative effect of several months of abundant precipitation has significantly improved drought conditions across the state.”
— US Drought monitor – California, February 9.

Precipitation over California in the water year so far (October 1 to January 31) is 178% of average for this date. The snowpack is 179% of average, as of Feb 8. Our reservoirs are at 125% of average capacity. See the bottom line summary as of February 7, from the US Drought monitor for California.

The improvement has been tremendous. The area with exceptional drought conditions have gone year over year from 38% of California to 0%, extreme drought from 23% to 1%, severe drought from 20% to 10% — while dry and moderate drought went from 18% to 48%, and no drought from <1% to 41%. See the map below. And the rain continues to fall.

California Drought Monitor Legend

California Drought Monitor Legend

California Drought Monitor Legend

For data about the western states see the dashboards at NOAA’s Western Water Assessment.  For a longer-term perspective on the western drought see NOAA’s “Western drought: It ain’t over ’til…well, it ain’t over” by Deke Arndt, 2 February 2017. It will take years of good rain and snow to recharge California’s groundwater.


“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

Journalists could have told us that historical data shows that past droughts in the US southwest lasted for centuries, a grim warning encouraging us to prepare. Droughts, often long and fierce, are the natural climate of this region. But telling the truth was boring — bad clickbait — and would have been politically useless for the Left. But their exaggerations and misrepresentations of science — and failed predictions — have only eroded away the public’s support for sensible measures to control and allocate water use.

This has been their way since they discovered that weather porn was good clickbait and might support their campaign for aggressive public policy measures to fight anthropogenic climate change. The result: contributing to the public’s loss of trust in the news media and an almost complete failure to get their policy changes.

In this as in other things, only a reality-based community can reform America. Too bad neither Left nor Right has any interest in giving up their tribal beliefs to focus on the often-inconvenient truth. Look here for ideas about ways you can help.

Next: California’s past megafloods – and the coming ArkStorm!

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about droughts, and especially these …

  1. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?
  2. Everything you want to know about California’s drought (except when it will end), Nov 2014.
  3. Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping California, March 2015.
  4. Our response to California’s drought shows America at work to enrich the 1%.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

…see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

31 thoughts on “Lessons learned from the end of California’s “permanent drought””

  1. Bren following this. Since the US ideological character reflects what California and the Northeast states, and since the human tendency is to see the local as the global, I have suspected the panic of CAGW depends on the weather of those two areas. If California gets wet, for expample, will Tom Styer move on to other things?
    Oh, wait ….. he already has.

    1. Doug,

      That’s a powerful insight! I have seen the same dynamic on a small scale. Natural gas futures often used to move in response to Manhattan’s weather. Quite mad, but that’s how people think. Unless tempered by professional training, they respond most strongly to their personal observations.

      Of course, the process is much simpler. I’ve see many people write that they personally have seen the effects of rising temperatures in their region — or even their garden. Most of these reports are imaginary. The temperature rise during the past several decades is too small for people to sense, and occurs only during a few months of the year. Many of the reports are things that have not happened, such as decreased snowfall.

      People’s “vision” is a complex thing.

  2. I’m glad to hear it’s been lightening up! I’ve been hearing celebratory remarks from a friend of mine who lives in Hollywood, punctuated occasionally with concerns that now the mudslides will kill them all instead.

    I had wondered if there were many efforts to get the farmers in the central valley using water more efficiently. From what I have heard, a lot of the groundwater/aquifer depletion is driven by that, and obviously there are people out there (Israel comes to mind) who know how to make water go a longer way. That seems like it would be win/win/win, assuming the efforts weren’t ruinously expensive in their own right.

    1. Dana,

      There have been efforts to make farmers make more efficient use of water, largely by changing pricing. But water rights are enmeshed in a dense web of laws and contracts, established in two centuries of often-intense conflict. They are not easily or quickly changed. Farmers political power is far greater than their numbers or importance to the California economy.

      Land owners in California own groundwater, so farmers are rapidly draining this. It will take decades to recharge, or never if the geology is ruined. When they take the last drop, much of California’s agriculture will disappear. It’s a story happening across America.

      This happened with cattle ranching. Many of the sites of range wars — where poorly paid cowboys died fighting for rich ranchers — are now abandoned, almost worthless land. That will be true for much of America’s mid- to late-21st C American farmland.

    2. Tragic! Well, we have lots of goodish farmland back East, at least, so I doubt the nation will starve – or even be out of fruits and vegetables. (Though prices would probably rise.)

      Hopefully technology will have swung up in ways that will help. I saw an article just yesterday about desalinization of brackish groundwater: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/02/05/desalination-of-salty-aquifers-offers-drought-weary-california-new-hope/

      However, that’s not forever either. Maybe they can use fusion plants to desalinate and pipe in seawater in a few decades.

      1. Dana,

        I agree on all points. Also, US farms tend to use water inefficiently compared to those in Israel. Most important, productivity at farms in the underdeveloped world is far less than at farms in developed nations. Bringing them up to speed would probably more than offset effects of depleting groundwater.

  3. Our media does not limit its alarmist coverage to climate change: it’s a universal technique that has led to our trust in media falling to 20% BEFORE the recent election campaign coverage (Gallup, June 2016).
    There’s nothing leftist about such journalism, it’s just non-specific mendacious drivel. Don’t confuse the message and the messenger.

    1. Godfree,

      The media does not originate alarmist news. This post covers those who originate doomster news in the climate wars.

      You refer to the news media’s long-standing love of a good crisis, the easy way to catch eyeballs. Sometimes real news, sometimes invented (the apocryphal “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”) To see how this works, read “The Crisis Crisis” by Peter Moore in Playboy, March 1987. It’s a great article!

  4. Climate change is a false premise for regulating or taxing carbon dioxide emissions. Nature converts CO2 to calcite (limestone). Climate change may or may not be occurring, but is is surely NOT caused by human fossil fuels use. Temperature changes cause changes in ambient CO2, with an estimated 800 year time lag.

    Others have shown the likely causes of climate change, and they DO NOT include human use of fossil fuels. There is no empirical evidence that fossil fuels use affects climate. Likely and well-documented causes include sunspot cycles, earth/sun orbital changes, cosmic ray effects on clouds and tectonic plate activity. The further point here is that earth naturally recycles all carbon dioxide.

    Here’s why. Fossil fuels emit only 3% of total CO2 emissions. 95% comes from rotting vegetation. All the ambient CO2 in the atmosphere is promptly converted in the oceans to calcite (limestone) and other carbonates, mostly through biological paths. CO2 + CaO => CaCO3 (exothermic). The conversion rate increases with increasing CO2 partial pressure. A dynamic equilibrium-seeking mechanism.

    99.84% of all carbon on earth is already sequestered as sediments in the lithosphere. The lithosphere is a massive hungry carbon sink that converts ambient CO2 to carbonate almost as soon as it is emitted. All living or dead organic matter (plants, animals, microbes etc. amount to only 0.00033% of the total carbon mass on earth. Ambient CO2 is only 0.00255%.

    Full implementation of the Paris Treaty is now estimated to cost $50 trillion to $100 trillion by 2030–$6,667-$13,333 per human being. Nearly two-thirds of humanity’s cumulative savings over history. And will not affect climate at all.

    A modern coal power plant emits few air effluents except water vapor and carbon dioxide. Coal remains the lowest cost and most reliable source of electric energy, along with natural gas. Coal has always competed effectively with natural gas. Illinois Basin coal now costs less than 1/3 the equivalent cost of natural gas at their respective sources. Coal is more competitive with gas today than it was twenty years ago.

    1. Miner49, you’re cycle is missing a critical element. The vast majority of ambient atmospheric CO2 isn’t converted in the oceans to calcite. It’s simply recycled into other plants. (If it weren’t, surely we’d run out of rotting vegetation, eh?) Methinks that you likely know this and, in a headlong rush to trounce the Warmists, overlooked it.

  5. So they built a metropolis in a desert, complete with viaducts to import water and when it doesn’t rain it is because of Man Made Global Warming? It couldn’t be because, let’s see, IT’S A F@#KING DESERT!

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  7. It’s amusing to look at the drought chart you provided. It seems that CA droughts are like olives — they start at “jumbo” and get bigger from there. Are there “twice exceptional” droughts coming?

    All kidding aside, my SIL lives in northern CA. Glad things are improving. But what will happen when California secedes and can’t get any more water from the Colorado RIver?

    1. Diogene,

      I live in the Bay area, and am sad to see the child-like level of debate about our water policy. Some excellent research about the climate and great public policy analysis — mostly ignored. Also, most people have no idea how heavily California is engineered to make use of its water. A map of hydrological engineering makes California look like a pinball game.

      California will not leave the union. That’s just news media clickbait.

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