The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that, based on its latest calculations, there is an 80 percent chance of megadroughts in the western half of the U.S. lasting 20 to 40 years this century. And nothing like that has ever happened in the past 1,000 years. The current drought in California has lasted around three years. The drought that turned much of the U.S. West into the Dust Bowl in the 1930s lasted 10 years.
NOAA also says that two global high-temperature records were just set. March 2015 was the warmest March since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. And the first quarter of 2015 was the warmest first quarter in those 136 years. So far, it looks like 2015 will be the hottest year on record. The current champ is 2014. The 10 warmest years on record have happened in the past 17 years. This March saw the highest level of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere since record-keeping began. They reached 400 parts per million for the first time, NOAA says.
There is only one bit of good news: In the Antarctic, sea ice has been increasing, hitting a record high in March 2015. But that gain "is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice" at the other end of the globe, in the Arctic Ocean, according to NASA.
An informed source reports that on June 30, Seton Medical Center will close its Family Birthing Unit, including Labor and Delivery, Well Newborn Nursery, Intensive Care Nursery, and Postpartum Nursing units.
SEVERE GEOMAGNETIC STORM: A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field during the early hours of March 17, triggering a magnetic disturbance that has escalated into the strongest geomagnetic storm of the current solar cycle (Kp=8). During the hours before sunrise on St. Patrick's Day, bright green skies appeared over multiple U.S. states, including Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Please check http://spaceweather.com for pictures and updates on the progress of the storm.
Plagued by prolonged drought, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year, according to NASA.
In an op-ed published Thursday by the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state's water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight.
"As our 'wet' season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows," Famiglietti writes. "We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek, too."
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one-third of the monitoring stations in California’s Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains have recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured.
"Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing,” Famiglietti writes.
He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond "staying in emergency mode and praying for rain."
Last month, new research by scientists at NASA, Cornell University and Columbia University pointed to a "remarkably drier future" for California and other Western states amid a rapidly changing climate. "Megadroughts," the study's authors wrote, are likely to begin between 2050 and 2099, and could each last between 10 years and several decades.
With that future in mind, Famiglietti says, "immediate mandatory water rationing" should be implemented in the state, accompanied by the swift formation of regulatory agencies to rigorously monitor groundwater and ensure that it is being used in a sustainable way—as opposed to the "excessive and unsustainable" groundwater extraction for agriculture that, he says, is partly responsible for massive groundwater losses that are causing land in the highly irrigated Central Valley to sink by one foot or more every year.
Various local ordinances have curtailed excessive water use for activities like filling fountains and irrigating lawns. But planning for California's "harrowing future" of more and longer droughts "will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon," Famiglietti writes. "Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin." (Newsweek, March 13, 2015)