More areas of California entered the most severe drought category in this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor report with the start of a hot and dry summer about a week away.
More than 33 percent of California is in exceptional drought, the most severe of the weekly report’s four drought categories. Last week, 26 percent percent of the state was in exceptional drought.
“California continued to see the impacts of drought increase, and there was expansion of extreme and exceptional drought in the northern and central areas as well as along the coast of central California,” this week’s report stated.
Last year at this time, no part of California was classified in exceptional drought. Only 2 percent of the state was in the second-most severe category, called extreme drought.
This year, more than 85 percent of the state is in extreme drought. All of California is in some stage of drought.
Most of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties are in extreme drought. Orange County and a swath of Riverside County remain in severe drought.
The worst conditions are in Kern County north of Los Angeles, east-central California and a portion of Northern California.
Droughts are common in California, where dry spells are often followed by wet winters that replenish the state’s critical snowpack and water reservoirs, but conditions this year are hotter and drier than others. That means water evaporates at a faster rate from reservoirs and the sparse Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds them. The snowpack usually melts in spring or early summer, then that water flows into the state’s vast storage and distribution system.
California has more than 500 reservoirs, which were 50% lower than they should be at the start of June, Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis, told the Associated Press earlier this month.
These photos show the dramatic impact of the current dry spell at California’s lakes and reservoirs.
Droughts are a part of life in California, where a Mediterranean-style climate means the summers are always dry and the winters are not always wet. The state’s reservoirs act as a savings account, storing water in the wet years to help the state survive during the dry ones.
Historic Photos: How Water Flows From the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles
Last year was the third driest on record in terms of precipitation. Temperatures hit triple digits in much of California over the Memorial Day weekend, earlier than expected.
State officials were surprised earlier this year when about 500,000 acre feet (61,674 hectare meters) of water they were expecting to flow into reservoirs never showed up. One acre-foot is enough water to supply up to two households for one year.
Dry conditions also increase wildfire danger. California has already seen a 26-percent increase in wildfire activity and a 58 percent increase in acreage burned compared to last year at this time, Calfire said.
About three-quarters of the American West is in what is called a megadrought, with critical waterways like the Colorado River and Rio Grande that supply millions of people and farms expected to have dismally low flows this year.