Normal drought or climate-change drought?

The snow pack for the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe is below normal for the end of December– again.  The Reno Gazette-Journal reported the Truckee River basin snowpack at 67% and the Lake Tahoe snowpack at 44% of “normal”.  December and January are usually the heavy lifters when it comes to providing the bulk of the moisture collected in the Sierra Nevada.  What the rest of the winter has in store for us remains an unknown.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Minnesota reported December 4, 2014 that the current California Drought is the worst in 1,200 years (at least).  The scientists analyzed growth rings on Blue Oaks growing in California to reach that conclusion and implicate human-caused climate change as the reason.  While droughts have always occurred, the current one is worse because of both increased temperature as well as decreased precipitation.

An icy Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake on New Years Day 2015.  Pyramid Lake levels have fallen dramatically since 2000.

An icy Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake on New Years Day 2015. Pyramid Lake levels have fallen dramatically since 2000.

Forbes published yesterday an article “No doubt it’s a climate-change drought, scientists say” quoting Jonathan Overpeck with the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona saying, “Of course everyone knows California’s drought has been for three years, rain so far has been helpful, there’s a snowpack in the Sierra Nevada’s that is about 50 percent of normal thanks to recent precipitation, but that hasn’t stopped the drought. The drought is still going to be the story at the end of the year, I think.”  He went on to say, ““To frame the drought we should be mentioning that much of the southwest and west has been in drought now for nearly 15 years, since 1999…”

While many in Nevada (and California) are hopeful that this year will see a turn-around and we’ll see above normal winter snows by the 1st of April, the last 15 years should give us pause for expecting that the drought will simply end and everything will return to “normal” in the long-run.  Climate change is the new dragon in the room.

December 30, 2014 Drought Monitor Map

December 30, 2014 Drought Monitor Map

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About Dennis Ghiglieri

My concern for the Truckee River grew over the years. It started with picking up trash and supporting better water quality. I helped create the "living river"plan with other citizens on the Community Flood Coalition; a plan to reduce flood impacts to infrastructure through river restoration and protection of the floodplain. I understand how critical the Truckee River is to the environment – and economy – of our entire region. I'm hoping that through these pages we can all understand our connection to the Truckee River and why we need to protect it.