California’s drought is still going strong, but new research suggests that not just evaporated moisture and human activity are the causes. Another culprit, says the University of Texas at Austin, is wind. This takes some by surprise, but their research leads to plausible results.
They found that evaporation of the Pacific Ocean was indeed a source of the state’s drought, but that the amount of water evaporating doesn’t have much effect on the amount of rainfall. Researchers discovered that the evaporation rates generally don’t change much from year to year, so the amount of rain wouldn’t either. So if the water evaporation hasn’t decreased any rain, what has?
Researchers state that the current high-pressure system California is experiencing is changing atmospheric circulation. In other words, storms are being forced north rather than dumping rain down on California. It’s known that California generally has this type of high-pressure system during the summer, but it normally goes away during winter. This one, however, has decided it wants to stay in place for the long-term.
Jiangfeng Wei, lead author and research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, states that this type of steady system is likely the effect of global warming. He states that this long-term high-pressure system is a rare event but is likely increasing with the climate change. However, Richard Seager, lead author of the NOAA study and professor with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, states that while this drought is extreme, it’s not uncommon for California when you look at the state’s climate history. “In fact, multiyear droughts appear regularly in the state’s climate record, and it’s a safe bet that a similar event will happen again,” Seager told USA Today in 2014.
So while the new research advises that wind blowing storms north is the primary cause of California’s drought, others disagree. Yes, the wind is blowing the rain away, but the climate change is prolonging the high-pressure system that is moving that wind north.
Either way, the recent findings will help scientists further understand how the water cycle plays a vital role in extreme weather events like California’s drought. Hopefully this will aid in drought prediction and even prevention, something the state could really use right now. Either way, we hope that California finds relief some way or another. The ill-effects of the drought are being felt everywhere without ease, so we’re certainly hoping for a brighter, wetter future.