California recorded its driest year in a century amid a period of above-average wildfires, extreme heat and extended droughts.
The 12-month period from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 when surface-water supply is tracked, known as a water year, was the second driest on record based on precipitation and runoff, according to the California Department of Water Resources. Only in 1924 was there even less rain and snowfall in a year.
California and other parts of the American West are suffering through one of the worst droughts on record. Dry weather, warmer temperatures, reduced snowmelt and population growth have all contributed to drought conditions, which have put added strains on water resources.
“Extreme conditions that once were rare are occurring with increased frequency,” the California Department of Water Resources said in a report. “California’s climate is transitioning to a warmer setting in which historical relationships among temperature, precipitation, and runoff are changing.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked Californians to cut their water use by 15% in light of the conditions. The state is home to about 70,000 farms and ranches, with a combined output of about $50 billion a year. Many farmers have had to scramble to find enough water.
Several heat waves over the summer blistered California, as well as other parts of the West. High temperatures, combined with the drought, left vegetation, branches and downed trees tinder-dry and easily combustible, accelerating the speed at which fires can spread. As of Oct. 6, 7,883 fires have burned through more than 2.48 million acres in California, according to the most recent state and federal data. The five-year average over that same period is 7,312 fires and more than 1.2 million acres.
As winter approaches, there is little indication that weather patterns are going to change significantly.
The weather phenomenon La Niña is expected to alter the U.S. winter for a second year in a row, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. La Niña winters, which are generally drier and warmer in parts of the U.S., could have a particularly devastating effect on the Southwest if dry weather continues to strain the region.