The California drought is helping return the weather pattern to normal

A four and a half year old article which puts California drought issues in perspective.~ctm

From the Green Blog at UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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Scientists studying long-ago California climate have realized that the 20th century was abnormally wet and rainy, according to researcher Lynn Ingram, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley.

“The past 150 years have been wetter than the past 2,000 years,” Ingram said. “And this is when our water development, population growth and agricultural industry were established.”

Ingram made the statement in a video presentation that is part of the UC California Institute for Water Resources new online video series. The series consists of presentations featuring UC and other experts speaking on topics aimed at helping farmers and all Californians better understand and cope with drought.

Precipitation during the last three years in California has been low by standards set since records were kept, which began in the late 1800s. However, the current drought appears to be well within normal fluctuations in the state’s climate, according to research by Ingram and other paleoclimatologists. A trend of gradually increasing temperature since the 1960s has been causing earlier spring snowmelt, decreased snowpack, and is predicted to cause more extreme droughts and floods.

In her 17-minute video, Ingram noted that her colleague Scott Stine of California State University East Bay found some of the first evidence of a medieval warm period in California by studying the water level of Mono Lake. The lake expands and contracts depending on the amount of runoff from the adjoining Sierra Nevada. Stine’s research reveals a dry spell from 1,800 to 600 years ago.

Ingram studies sediment cores at locations near the San Francisco Bay, which is fed by a watershed that covers 40 percent of California.

“The salinity reflects precipitation and runoff from a very large area of California,” she said. “As fresh water comes in, it mixes with salt water. Sediment records changes in salinity over time.”

Looking at the chemistry of the sediment layers and their fossil composition, she was able to tease out a record of past floods and droughts.

“There was a significant increase in salinity during the medieval warm period,” Ingram said. “Salinity increased from 15 to 22 parts per thousand in the dry period.”

The higher salinity suggests there was less fresh water flowing into the bay.

Ingram said scientists believe the current warming trend will continue into the future.

“The drier climate will increase evaporation, so drier soils, more frequent wildfires, increased dust levels,” Ingram said. “It’s also predicted that we will have more extreme climate; as the climate warms, you’re adding more energy and more water vapor in the atmosphere. That will produce larger floods and deeper droughts.”

Detailed information about California’s climate past and future may be found in a book Ingram wrote with Frances Malamud-Roam, The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow.

HT/Peter Lount

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38 thoughts on “The California drought is helping return the weather pattern to normal

  1. Part of this is good reporting. Yes, 20th century was wet, and we may be approaching more normal. But warmer does not lead to more extreme weather. That is not backed up by her half complete reasoning.

    Delta T matters… and if the poles are warming more than the equatorial regions, that that warming leads to less extreme weather.

    • Warmer does not result in more extreme weather, but it certainly results in different weather. And a warmer climate thus tends to influence how complex ecosystems operate, whether they be forests in the Sierra or coral reefs in the Caribbean.

      Warmer and wetter weather results in higher biological production in forests – aka known as higher fuel content. Higher fuel content results in larger, more intense forest fires, all other things being kept equal. Active forest management practices can mitigate the effects of greater fuel production, but not completely eliminate them either.

      All forests tend to go through cycles that are specific to the species of trees in the forest as well as other factors such as temperature and moisture that affect not only fuel production but also intensity of insect attacks, such as from the western pine beetle that has been impacting much of our western forests over the last decade or so

      A large contiguous forest monoculture such as the western lodgepole pine inthe northern Rockies ihas a specific life cycle of roughly 250 years over which it grows old, and becomes increasingly susceptable to both wildfire as well as to insect attacks, which are in fact related phenomena. The growing insect attacks in a mature forest kill off a large number of trees which dry out and become fire hazards. Over time, the whole forest eventually burns down, and then it starts all over again with other tree species initially taking hold, and eventually being replaced by a lodgepole pine overstory again. And on and on, on a lifecycle that is far longer than that of humans who only see what is there today and cannot conceive of what the forest was like 100 or 250 years ago, or what it will look like in 100 or 250 years from now.

  2. Whoo Boy! Can’t wait to hear how these data driven analyses are attacked by the AGW faithful!
    Unsettling science, indeed…..

    • The article is four and a half years old. They’ve had plenty of time to attempt to trash it. I’m guessing they didn’t notice it.

      • CB,
        I know it was a 2014 presentation. I was thinking of the AGW faithful that frequent this blog and how they might respond to this today. Time will tell…..

        • J Mac

          At best, all science is educated guesswork. Dealing with how weather and environments operated 2,000 years ago is something short of educated guesswork. Speculation with a bit of scientific rigour as to data acquisition and analysis I suspect. And I’ll bet the scientists who put it together would agree with me.

          And I would say that about any science, alarmist or otherwise.

          So don’t get too enthusiastic.

    • This is a 2014 work. You can’t expect AGW proponents to read anything as divisive as data opposing their wisdom.

  3. ““There was a significant increase in salinity during the medieval warm period,” Ingram said.”

    Confirmation MWP wasn’t merely a European phenomenon, no matter what one particular hockey stick indicated.

    SR

    • Steve Reddish

      Is it important that the MWP was global?

      So what if it wasn’t? Man still flourished in a northern hemisphere warmer environment thereby demonstrating that warmer conditions are good and man doesn’t just survive in warmer conditions, he prospers.

      • Its globalness is important because if the temperature increase was global, then estimates of past global temperatures must include a significant upward bump in the handle of the hockey stick, one that rises to about the height of the current warm period, making it not unprecedented and nothing special.

        • Roger Knights

          I get that. But it’s a theoretical scientific exercise that is now pretty meaningless as the IPCC have dumped the hockey stick as the poster boy of AGW.

          The claim now is that an increase of 1.5C will spell disaster when we know from the Roman and Medieval warm periods that’s just nonsense as humans lived through it and flourished.

          The public neither understand nor care about the hockey stick. What would resonate with them is that humans have proven warm is good and there is scientific, historic and cultural evidence of such which can’t be refuted.

          Even if these warm periods were closely confined to western Europe (which seems unlikely) those enjoying the warmth prospered.

          The moral being, all hell isn’t unleashed when temperatures rise and there is a body of evidence to prove it. In fact, quite the opposite. It may have induced immigration which is one of the fears dispensed by the alarmists but, like them or loathe them, the Romans brought wealth, culture and technology which are still in use today https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24493177

  4. When I lived in Reno, Nevada, there was a prolonged drought where Lake Tahoe, located on the California-Nevada border, went below its natural rim. This led to a submersible study of the Lake Tahoe underwater old shoreline, with Indian stone rings (supports for curved branches huts) and tree stumps located as deep as 90 feet below the natural rim. That was some drought! Too many persons, even a fair number of educated ones, think normal is whatever happened over the last three years, or maybe for deep-thinkers over the last five years. Natural variation is substantial!

    • J Mac

      One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.

      (Gawd I hate using that classic statement of progress in the context of moonbeam, but it seems to work).

  5. “as the climate warms, you’re adding more energy and more water vapor in the atmosphere. That will produce larger floods and deeper droughts.”

    I don’t understand how adding more water vapor to the atmosphere will result in deeper droughts.

    It seems to me that this year’s drought in California is more likely the result of a cooler climate in the tropical Pacific, and thus adding less moisture to the atmosphere, the result of last year’s La Nina and the solar minimum.

    Remember we also had extremely dry weather over British Columbia this past summer, resulting in sever forest fires there as well. In addition we have had both extreme cold, last winter and extreme heat, this past summer, over North America (and Europe?). Extreme temperatures over land are also a sign of less water vapor in the atmosphere, the result of a cooler climate.

    • It may sound like Bass Akwards reasoning but more heat energy is being equated with the possibility of Deeper Droughts and more water vapor is being equated with the possibility of potential flooding during rain events.
      The one problem I have always had with it is, if the warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture to be released in rain events, why doesn’t the warmer atmosphere HOLD more moisture and RETAIN it during those rain events?

      • J Mac

        Tropical forests?

        Warm, moist atmosphere. Becomes overloaded with moisture then deposits it as monsoons in one great deluge?

        My ignorance showing?

      • Bryan – the theory is that more energy intensifies the waves which result in droughts and floods. More precipitable water will result in worse floods when there’s positive vorticity.

  6. Regarding Gov. Brown. and his relaxing of the foreesrty management, as it is obvious that the recent fires are a direct result of past Green inspired restrictions. A old Chinese proverb, “Wind blows, grass bends”. A lot of people in positions of authority will be madly running for cover over this one. Its far too big to cover up this time.

    MJE

  7. Jerry Brown is an anti-science crackpot… there have been lots of articles over the decades on California drought history:

    New York Times, July 19, 1994
    Severe Ancient Droughts: A Warning to California

    BEGINNING about 1,100 years ago, what is now California baked in two droughts, the first lasting 220 years and the second 140 years. Each was much more intense than the mere six-year dry spells that afflict modern California from time to time, new studies of past climates show. The findings suggest, in fact, that relatively wet periods like the 20th century have been the exception rather than the rule in California for at least the last 3,500 years, and that mega-droughts are likely to recur….

    https://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/19/science/severe-ancient-droughts-a-warning-to-california.html

    • Alec,

      Thank you. I knew I remembered something like that from over 20 years ago but did not have the reference.

    • Alec aka Daffy Duck

      Can contemporary science isolate any ten year period, within a 220, and 140 year time span, across 1,100 years?

      I’d be impressed with any claims to do so, but I wouldn’t believe them, far less over a 3,500 year period.

      • HotScott;

        They weren’t making that claim. They were comparing the 220 and 140 periods to contemporary six-year periods.

    • Daffy,
      It should be clear that the people who are truly anti-science are the ones who appeal to authority, denigrate reasonable arguments and facts based an inability to be published in peer-reviewed journals, and engage in character assassination of those whom they disagree with. It is like the old saying, “When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.” The alarmists are attempting to tar and feather skeptics with pejorative accusations when they are most guilty. But, one has to admit that they have got the idea of “The best defense is a good offense” down very well.

  8. If the leadership in Sacramento and SF knows this already, they would rather go for the massive new revenue source from national coffers to put toward it than to admit to dangerous words like “natural” and other non-revenue generating terms. The same goes for paying for infrastructure in NY.

  9. As I understand it, the giant redwood has evoloved to require a bush fire to clear the undergrowth in order to germinate. That does suggest that California is hustorically subject to droughts

  10. “Precipitation during the last three years in California has been low by standards set since records were kept, which began in the late 1800s.”
    A minor correction – California rainfall records go back another century to Mission records, the 1769-1770 water year. I provided this information and links in WUWT:
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/18/christy-on-sierra-snowfall-over-the-last-130-years-no-trend-no-effect-from-co2/
    The Mission records are from a CA Metropolitan Water District study as explained in my post. I provided a tabulation of the ~200 years of rainfall for the statistically-inclined.

  11. Impossible. They got rid of the MWP. Something to do with bristelcone pines and a hockey stick. Go figure.

  12. I would advise Californians to build more dams for water storage. Build enough and you will be OK. I give you this advice for free.

    Others, such as state-funded climate “scientists”, will tell you not to build more dams for water storage, but just drink less and pay more for fruit and vegetables from elsewhere. Environmentalists will go further, ask you for lots of donations and charitable tax-breaks, and then tell you to destroy existing dams even as your water-bills are rising.

    All these groups will charge you money, tell you to get rid of the technologies that made you wealthy in the first place, and be proved wrong. A few of them will then make movies in Hollywood saying how they are right really, or will be next time, and you just need to be more like them. The only people who watch those movies will be the poor immigrants who can’t afford air conditioning because of high energy prices and who go to the cinema and Walmart to keep cool in summer.

    • michael hart

      meanwhile, all the wildlife will move to higher ground as a dam is built and filled.

      Lets face it, if every animal has the ability to affect the planet as much as the greens would have us believe, then the loss of the dinosaurs and mammals that lived above ground would have wiped out all life on earth.

      Mother nature isn’t daft. If we get too big for our boots, she’ll deal with us as she see’s fit, even if it is a meteor strike.

      I mean, whose to say some dinosaurs weren’t as intelligent as us. Because they chose to live without glass and metal structures doesn’t mean they were stupid, in fact the opposite could be true for all we know.

      • You need to look at native species of flora and fauna in California. They had to adapt to the climate for a long time.

  13. Well, I’m just amazed that no one pays any attention to a book written almost thirty years ago by Dr. Harold Fritts of the University of Arizona. The book is titled “Reconstructing Large-scale Climatic Patterns from Tree-ring Data.” The charts go back to 1600, as I remember. He talks about how the five or so decades after the 30s were abnormally wet in the SW US.

    I’ve wondered now for several years if we aren’t simply going back into a more normal pattern.

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