A range of climate scientists detail the spectrum of possibilities explaining the current record drought facing much of California, with a caution about the ‘incredibly important’ implications of the drought … potentially one lasting a very long time.
The March “This Is Not Cool” Yale Forum video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair explores the discomforting prospect that California just might be at the start of what could be a 30, 50, or 80-year “mega-drought,” as the Golden State has experienced in the past.
Scientists interviewed by Sinclair and those represented in various media broadcasts cover the range of issues involving whether the nagging drought in much of the state is the result of natural variability, of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases … or of a combination of the two.
“Many of the extremes and climate variability are going to hit us harder and harder,” says NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Tom Painter. With increased climate variability, “the droughts and precipitation events will become more intense,” he says, an assessment shared also by JPL scientist Bill Patzert and others in the video.
The “This is Not Cool” California drought video includes a clip from a CBS News segment in which the network correspondent reported that meteorologists have coined a “Three Rs” term: Ridiculously Resilient Ridge characterizes the high-pressure ridge they see sending would-be Pacific coast rains and precipitation northward into western Canada and southeastern Alaska, and thereby leaving much of California and the southwest hot and dry … and more vulnerable to wild fires.
‘Incredibly Important Consequences’
Given scientific evidence that the global atmosphere overall is warming, says Professor Richard Rood of the University of Michigan, “an event like this has some element of that warming climate in it,” even as it is caused by a combination of human and natural factors. Climate scientist Jacob Sewall of Kutztown University, in Pennsylvania, agrees and says his research suggests that changes in Arctic sea ice extent cannot be ignored in determining various influences.
“There are absolutely other things happening in the climate system, so I don’t know that we will ever be able to say exactly that this was caused by this, because it’s a very complicated system,” Sewall emphasizes. “But I certainly don’t think that we can throw out melting of the ice, thinner ice in the Arctic, as one of the contributors to this very stable pattern, and therefore to this very strong drought.”
Rood’s conclusion: “What we are currently seeing in the current weather and the literature right now is the questioning, with perhaps some observational evidence, that we are starting to see changes in the oscillations, which would have, I think, incredibly important consequences for weather and climate, on a much shorter time scale than if you imagine the sort of incrementally slow change in climate.”