California Is Sinking Further Into An 'Exceptional' Drought

Several counties in and around the San Francisco Bay Area now fall into the most severe drought category.

Another swath of California has entered into “exceptional drought,” the most severe category of dryness recognized by U.S. drought authorities, escalating the threat of another devastating wildfire season, water shortages and other increasingly familiar troubles in the Golden State.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, released data Thursday showing eight new counties within and north of the San Francisco Bay Area partially in “exceptional drought” ― one level worse than the “extreme drought” they were in last week.

"Exceptional drought" -- the darkest portion of the map -- took over parts of eight more California counties in the past week.
"Exceptional drought" -- the darkest portion of the map -- took over parts of eight more California counties in the past week.
U.S. Drought Monitor, GIF by Ivylise Simones

The situation is escalating quickly, monitoring shows. Two weeks ago, just over 5% of the state was in the “exceptional drought” category, as it had been since March. But that figure jumped to more than 13% a week later, then hit nearly 16% this week. All of the state is now facing some level of drought, with most of the state in the second-most severe category.

Signs of a dwindling water supply, which has serious implications for the state’s robust agricultural sector and wildlife, can be seen across the state, U.S. Drought Monitor officials said.

“In California, the water level in Lake Tahoe is 2.5 feet lower than this time last year,” this week’s report noted.

California’s snowpack is only at 2% of what’s normal for this time of year, Peter Gleick, co-founder of the global water think tank The Pacific Institute tweeted Friday.

News of the state’s worsening drought conditions comes a week after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended a drought emergency declaration from just two to 41 of California’s 58 counties, asking those counties and the state’s Water Board to find ways to conserve water.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in Northern and Central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” he said at the time.

Napa and Sonoma counties, which suffered some of the worst wildfires in California history less than a year ago, are among the driest counties, putting residents in the state’s world-famous wine country at risk of another devastating blaze. Several jurisdictions in the area have already implemented water rationing programs.

The state has seen several wildfires so far this year, though the most devastating blazes tend to come in the later summer and fall. One deemed the WeeVill fire took off Thursday in Los Angeles County. It has since ballooned to 300 acres and remains completely uncontained.

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