California Runs Dry

Over the last year or two, the ubiquitous two-word phrase ‘climate change’ has, with increasing frequency, been replaced with the phrase ‘climate emergency’. Spring has not quite yet transitioned to summer in California wine country, but there are plenty of alarm bells ringing that make it clear the state is firmly in the grip of the latter.

On Wednesday 21 April, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. As the site for his announcement he chose the dry bed of Lake Mendocino where, he said, under normal circumstances he should have been standing ‘40 feet underwater’. Last Monday, 10 May, he expanded that emergency declaration to add 39 other counties to the list, including Napa. 

Rainfall in the state is at 42% of normal levels according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with parts of Sonoma County at just 33% of historical averages. At a time when parts of the state would normally be seeing the last of their spring showers, more than 1,788 fires have already started, including some flare-ups from ‘holdover fires’ – smouldering embers from 2020 that did not receive enough rain to be fully extinguished over the winter. The wildfire risk for much of the west, as shown above in a map from Channel 7 News, is already extreme.

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