- Education and Science
The Night it Rained in California
Images of a Drought
Large portions of dry, parched, cracked, and splitting land that once was smooth and covered with grass.
Large bodies of water that needed a secure dam to keep contained, now dried up to what amounts to a large puddle.
Once water in a reservoir, now mud and bird prints.
Fallen trees, dried-out wood becomes the perfect kindling for wild fires, where hundreds of firefighters risk their lives to try to put out.
The fires rage on in the hills where you can smell the burning embers and see the skylight up in orange and red.
Mountains so dry they turn brown and cry out to the heavens for a drink of water.
Trees that once were green and healthy are dried up, bent over and decaying.
Tree branches cracking-off and falling to the sidewalk like a dead pigeon collapsing from the sky.
Streams and creeks drying up; now looking like a rock garden with trash and debris.
Water in reservoirs getting lower and lower with each passing dry, sunny day.
Farmers becoming paupers and digging up dried out orange and lemon trees and wondering how they can pay the next mortgage payment.
The fields become barren and the cows have nowhere to graze and they become dehydrated and keel over.
Wildlife--mountain lions, goats, deer, bears--search for water so they move out of their natural habitat to nearby homes, towns and highways looking for water and food.
What Constitutes a Drought?
"Several consecutive dry years on top of the driest years on record in 2013 and 2014 has culminated into a drought for the Water Agency's service area. Water supply storage levels in both of the Water Agency's reservoirs - Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma - remain well below average. Most critical is Lake Mendocino with extremely low water supply storage levels."
Why the Drought? Global Warming
Some people say that it's one of those bad cycles that we're in. They are not worried; they say that the drought goes in cycles and we're in a bad one. It's just the way California works, they rationalize.
But others in the know, like respected researchers, say that it's not just a bad cycle that we're in, but the effect of a more deeper problem, global warming. It's caused by burning of fossil fuels and clearing the forests.
Climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University and colleagues used computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean--which diverted storms away from California--was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.
Which means, global warming.
"Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region--which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California--is much more likely to occur today than prior to the emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s," says Diffenbaugh.
"Earth’s natural greenhouse effect makes life as we know it possible. However, human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests, have intensified the natural greenhouse effect, causing global warming."
Then it Rained on Halloween
I used to live for years on the East Coast and had my fair share of downpours. But once I moved to the Central Coast of California, I have seen predominantly dry weather--nothing but daily sunshine with low humidity. Once in a while there might be a teardrop or a dark cloud or two, but for the past year (2014), it has been the worst drought in the history of California. Our precious water supply is at an all time low.
Rain is always in the back of my mind. When will it rain? When will it rain? I keep asking myself.
I have seen nothing in the last year. Everything is dry as bone, even the rubber from my windshield wipers are dry and cracking.
But then on Halloween night, when the kids and adults were dressed in haunting costumes, collecting candy and trying to scare each other, something beautiful and magical happened. It rained. On Halloween night, about 6pm, it rained like Hell. And it rained throughout the night and into the early morning hours.
What is Rain?
"Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated—that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth."
The Rain Spoke to Me
It rained so loud and heavy on my aluminum carport cover that I couldn't sleep. I had to go out in the middle of the night and look at and listen to it. I had to see for myself the wonderful rain. I had to take pictures of the puddles of water, the water gushing from the drain pipe, the winds blowing rain in my face. The rain dancing on the asphalt like hyperactive ballerinas.
I had to experience the event that Californians have been waiting for over a year.
You know, that stuff we very rarely see in these parts. The stuff that comes out of our faucets and sprinklers but we are reluctant to use. The stuff that we can't use to wash our car in the driveway and, instead, have to go to a carwash that recycles water. The stuff that we rarely use to water our lawns and instead have to rip up our grass and put succulents and rocks in its place.
When it rains here, it gives people a little bit of hope. It gives them hope that we won't dry up and die. We won't dehydrate and shrivel up and wither away.
Rain to us, symbolizes life. It symbolizes our ability to grow crops, raise children and refresh our bodies and our environment. We have ocean water everywhere along the Pacific Coast of California. We swim and surf in it and we fly over it in our hang gliders but we don't have enough of it from the sky.
After the Rain
After the rain there were shiny puddles on the street.
The air smelled fresh, the trees looked healthier and clean.
Our city was purged of toxic air. All of us could breathe freely. Our lungs were much happier.
I could see the wet leaves on the streets, pieces of palm tree bark lay scattered along Cabrillo and De La Vina.
I could see that the grass was greener.
The cars got a good soaking, with little beads of water on the Mini Coopers and the Prius.
Puddles everywhere, the streets all shiny and glistening after a a good shower.
Water gushing out of the drainpipes from the roofs of buildings.
I saw some mud for the first time here.
It was a good soaking. That's all it was. It helped us momentarily. It made us hopeful for more. If it rained once, it could rain again. The sunshine was wonderful, but we need more precipitation. We need some thundershowers, some torrential downpours. We need more rain to fill up all those barren reservoirs and water canals. We need much more rain.
And I'm hopeful.
Bottome Line: We Must Continue to Conserve Our Precious Water Supply
The Water Agency encourages its community to help save water by following these water conservation tips:
- Participate in a water conservation rebate program. View available rebate programs at www.wateroff.org.
- Water landscaping only when necessary
- Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways, sidewalks, gutters and decks.
- Install automatic shut-off nozzles on all hoses.
- Turn off water at the sink while brushing teeth, shaving and washing up. Take shorter showers.
- Wash only full loads of clothes and dishes.
- Fix leaky faucets and sprinkler systems.
- Install water-wise appliances, like low-flow toilets and showerhead and faucet aerators.
- Replace your lawn with native plants and a drip irrigation system.
Source: Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership, www.wateroff.org.