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One of the worst North American droughts in history could be getting a whole lot worse. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map released on Tuesday, more than 58 percent of California is in an “exceptional drought” stage. That’s up a staggering 22 percent from last week’s report. And, in its latest drought report released earlier today, the National Drought Mitigation Center warned that “bone-dry” conditions are overtaking much of the Golden State, and noted that, overall, California is “short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year.”

droughtmapca 

All across California, streams are drying up, crops are dying off and local communities are struggling to maintain access to water, thanks to 3 years of persistent drought conditions. The situation is so dire that on Tuesday, California implemented state-wide emergency water-conservation measures, in an effort preserved what remaining water there is. Under the new measures, Californians can face fines of up to $500 per day for using hoses to clean sidewalks, run decorative fountains, and other water-guzzling activities.

Unfortunately, while the situation in California is already pretty bleak, it looks like things are only going to get worse. In fact, it’s possible that all of the American southwest could soon be seeing the devastating drought conditions that Californians are facing. That’s because the largest surge of heat ever recorded moving west to east in the Pacific Ocean, often referred to as a Kelvin Wave, which was supposed to start an El Nino and bring tropical-like rains to the West Coast and southwest, just dissipated, after it was absorbed by abnormally warm ocean waters.

An El Nino is marked by the prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, when compared to the average temperature. El Ninos usually happen every two to seven years, and can last anywhere between nine months and two years. As warm water spreads from the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the eastern Pacific, it brings rain and moisture with it, bringing rain to California and the American Southwest. 

So, during an El Nino period, winters are often a lot wetter than usual in the southwest U.S., including in central and southern California, where drought conditions are currently the worst. That’s why Californians were hoping for a strong El Nino period, to bring the rains and moisture that’s needed to help ease the drought.

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