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No Rain in the Forecast: California's Drought Continues

Updated on January 7, 2014

2009 drought

California suffered a severe drought in 2009, which affected millions of people in ways unrelated to agriculture. A 2011 study shows that unemployment did rise during the drought, but not significantly in the agricultural industry. The construction industry declined during that period and reported the largest increase in unemployment numbers.

Record crops were reported during that same time as farmers used proven sustainable methods to grow crops during the dry spell.

A substantial rise in the cost of electricity directly links to the drought. As rivers shrank, the water needed to run hydroelectric ran out. Power plants used natural gas to power the grid, which accounts for the steep increase in costs.

Drought conditions worsen

A lack of rain in California means little water for irrigating crops this summer and higher prices in the grocery stores. The effects of drought not only raise food prices, though. Widespread drought will further damage the festering economy of the state and impose more hardship on the poor. Consider, too, the health of millions as the worsening drought exacerbates already unhealthy air conditions. With no rain in the forecast, the state of California looks very bleak.

California rainfall falls short


Less than average

Water rights in California have always been in hot debate. While the central valley of California, once the agricultural capital of the United States, produces more than half of the countries fresh vegetables, water rights continue to sell to non-agricultural ventures. Other water reserves have gone to the conservation of several species of fish.

With the lack of rainfall in 2013 the valley agricultural outlook does not look productive. The San Joaquin Valley averages 11-inches of rain a year, but received only 3-inches in 2013. So far, 2014 looks dry as well. As storms flood the eastern half of the United States, California remains abnormally warm and dry.


A high-pressure system has stayed over California for several weeks. This front of high pressure has kept the temperature above normal and kept rain out of the foreseeable weather forecast. Parts of California normally in the 50s will reach 70-degrees over the next few days. The snow pack is only 20-percent of normal according to a recent survey.

Warm air trapped in the Central Valley picks-up particles of dust, pollen, mold and other pollutants. These have formed a layer of grey/brown smog that blocks the view and clogs the lungs. The air quality continues to deteriorate, which triggers allergies and threatens the health of those with weakened immune systems. Meanwhile, a vicious cold front attacks the eastern, mid and southern United States.

The high pressure system keeping the cold and moisture out of California has weakened the Polar Vortex. The Polar Vortex usually rotates, as a low pressure system, around the Arctic in a counter-clockwise direction. This year, however, the high pressure ridge extends up the northern Pacific coast pushing the Polar Vortex farther north than normal. This weakens the vortex, causing it to split in two sections. The Arctic reports above average temperatures as the winds of the Polar Vortex slow over the region and the low pressure moves south.

One section travels south around the high and now causes the cold weather in the mid part of the United States. Record lows have brought normal activity to a halt from the mid-Atlantic, through Ohio, the Tennessee Valley and the upper-Midwest. In Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo the Polar bears were taken inside when the temperature dropped to -26 degrees.

Cold takes over much of the U.S.

After the storms

The problems have just begun as people wait out the cold and California watches the sky for rain. With the strain on California's budget already pushing politicians to ask for cuts in food stamps and cash aid, how will another influx of unemployed fare? In the wake of disaster comes repairing damage and bringing life back to normal.

© 2014 Brenda Speegle


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