New research from the University of Texas at Austin shows wind is largely responsible for droughts in California, not the amount of evaporated moisture or human activity.
The finding, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, shows that while evaporation of the Pacific Ocean is a major source of California’s precipitation, the amount of water evaporating does not have a major impact on the amount of rain. The researchers note the Pacific evaporation rate does not really change from year to year, so rainfall rates wouldn’t change either.
“Ocean evaporation provides moisture for California precipitation but is not the reason for droughts there,” Jiangfeng Wei, lead author and research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, said in a press release.
The finding helps scientists understand how the water cycle plays into extreme weather events, like the California drought, and could aid in drought prediction moving forward. The researchers say the current California drought is due to a high-pressure system that is disturbing atmospheric circulation.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Sukup told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the high pressure system — or “ridge” as it’s known — has been “persisting above southern California for 5 years.” Sukup said a high pressure system forces “storm tracks to stay north” as opposed to dumping rain on California.
“When high pressure patterns develop, they are hard to break through,” Sukup told TheDCNF.
Sukup said it is normal for southern California to have a high pressure system in summer, but that it usually disappears in the winter, allowing storms to break through. The current high pressure system has been unusually stubborn.
Wei attributed the system to global warming.
“Although this is a very rare event, the probability of this kind of high-pressure system is likely increasing with global warming,” Wei said.
A 2014 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study, however, found global warming is not to blame for the drought. Droughts in California are not uncommon, according to NOAA.
“It’s important to note that California’s drought, while extreme, is not an uncommon occurrence for the state,” Richard Seager, lead author of the NOAA study and professor with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, told USA Today in 2014.
“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 continued.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, found fault with NOAA’s research regarding the cause of the California drought.
“The authors of the new report would really have us believe that [the drought] is merely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the impact of human-caused climate change,” Mann said in a piece published by The Huffington Post. “Frankly, I don’t find that even remotely plausible.”
Climatologists in the 1970s blamed California’s droughts on global cooling, not warming.
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