Q&A: Breaking down the California drought

Staff Reporter

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Sept. 2) — To say things have been better for California farmers would be an understatement.
The state is in the throes of an extraordinary drought, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in more than 100 years.
As residents of the world’s eighth largest economy grapple with the economic consequences of that reality, new attention is being focused on the state’s growers who consume — according to estimates — up to 80 percent of its water.
California also produces more than 15 percent of the nation’s agricultural receipts, and the drought could have a far-reaching impact not only on dinner tables across the United States but what California farmers are able to grow and how much water they have to do it.
The Delmarva Farmer spoke with Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, about what’s going on in California and if Delmarva growers can ever expect to see such dangerously extreme weather.
What’s causing the drought in California? How long could it last, and how severe could it get?
“The California drought is an all-year drought dating back two years and is expected to persist at least through the fall.
“There could be some improvement this winter if precipitation increases during the winter months, but the precipitation deficits are so large due to the duration of the drought, it will likely take more than one wet year to fully recover from the drought.
“The lack of snowfall in the mountains, it was very similar to what occurred in ’76-’77. The California drought is heavily tied to a lack of snowfall during the winter and spring.
“But there’s no clear signal of enhanced precipitation as we go into the winter, although typically precipitation is supposed to begin to increase late during the fall and the winter, so by early 2015 they may see a slight improvement.
“But once again, due to the duration of the drought, it will take many months if not more than a year to recover.
“It has a large impact on agriculture. It’s somewhat offset by the irrigation in California.”
What’s the likelihood of Delmarva farmers ever experiencing drought-like conditions we’re unfortunately seeing in California?
“It’s unlikely since the annual variations in precipitation are smaller than compared to California. Also, California relies quite a bit on mountain snow pack and the snowmelt from that snow pack. Short-term droughts can affect agriculture over the Delmarva.
“They’re far more common, but the duration of the drought is typically much shorter than what’s been occurring in California the past few years.”
What are the biggest weather-related concerns for growers in the Delmarva region?
“Temperature and lack of precipitation during the growing season.”