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How bad is the California drought? Very bad

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We all know California’s in another historic drought, but until I checked the actual rainfall data, I had no idea how severe it really is.

From the desert southeast to the Pacific coast, on up to the Oregon border and out to the Sierra Foothills, the rainfall amounts are staggeringly low. And keep in mind, it’s June now: there’s not going to be another drop of water falling in California until next October or November, except, possibly, for a wandering summer monsoon that drops a quarter-inch in some rare place. And even that’s unlikely.

Check out these numbers:

Bakersfield: Season to date: 2.77” Normal to date: 6.33”

Los Angeles: Season to date: 5.80” Normal to date: 14.55”

San Diego: Season to date: 4.50” Normal to date: 10.07”

San Francisco: Season to date: 8.91” Normal to date: 23.22”

Oakland: Season to date: 7.61” Normal to date: 20.35”

San Jose: Season to date: 5.32” Normal to date: 15.50”

Eureka: Season to date: 27.25” Normal to date: 46.15”

You can see that rainfall this 2020-2021 season ranges from one-half to one-third of normal. That’s not just low, it’s insanely low. Already, wildfires have been erupting, not big ones—yet—but for them to happen in Northern California in May is shocking. We’ve been lucky because May was unusually chilly, and June is starting out that way too. But the heat waves are coming.

You can also get a sense of the drought’s severity from these flow charts for some California rivers.

The bar graphs compare this year’s flow with those of 2014 and 2015, when California was in the grips of “the two driest years of our driest drought,” according to the California Department of Water Resources. In other words, in 2021, we’re as starved for water as we were seven years ago, at the peak of the last severe drought.

Of course, California may be spared from great conflagrations this year. We may not have those big lightning events that can spark dozens of fires in a matter of hours. We may not have idiots who drop cigarettes in dry tinder. We may not have sociopathic arsonists who get their jollies by setting fires. But in all probability, it’s going to be a bad year. This is why our Governor, Gavin Newsom, announced he’s budgeting two billion dollars for fire prevention this year, doubling the previous amount. Cynics immediately said that Newsom is doing that because he’s facing a recall, but that’s a scurrilous charge. He’s going to win the recall handily—everyone knows it. He’s throwing money at fire prevention because it’s his job to save lives, property and wildlands.

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