United States Extreme Weather Event

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Drought in the State of California

Since 2012, California has suffered from a drought that reached its peak in the years 2014-2017. Characterized as an extended dry period caused by lack of precipitation and/or reduction in groundwater, the drought came at a tremendous cost to California and other surrounding states. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that the drought cost the state US$2.7 billion, largely in lost agricultural productivity and employment. Additionally, the drought increased the severity of wildfires and floods, destroying millions of trees and billions of dollars worth of property. As of early 2017, the drought has largely ended in northern California, but parts remain under extreme drought conditions in southern California.

While it is difficult to link individual weather events to climate change, researchers at Stanford University have suggested reduced atmospheric pressure—and subsequent reduced precipitation—as the root cause of the drought. They suggest that such a severe drought would not have occurred to the same extent without global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Another study connected increased global average temperatures from climate change with greater soil moisture evaporation, which increased the severity of the drought.

While the drought emergency has not yet been lifted by governor Jerry Brown, it is expected to be lifted within the next six weeks. Despite the hardship the state endured over the past five years, water policy has not improved as much as necessary to protect the state in the event of another drought like this one. However, water usage in the state remains greatly reduced from pre-drought levels, and monitoring and reporting practices are in the process of being made permanent fixtures of California law.

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Costs of the drought in 2015:

Studies linking drought and climate change:

Post-drought outlook for California:


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