California's extreme drought as seen from space

'This is no California winter postcard,' says climate scientist

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

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California's drought as seen from space, Feb. 16, 2014. (NASA.gov)

The historic drought that's devastated California and much of the West this year is visible from space.

In an image taken by NASA's Terra satellite on Feb. 16, effects of the extreme drought on vegetation is evident: shades of brown where green should be, shades of green where the Earth should be blanketed in white.

“In a normal year, much of the green areas near the mountains would be snow-covered,” Ramakrishna Nemani, a vegetation sensing expert at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a blog post. “Since there is not much snow this year, the evergreen vegetation appears anomalously green. In fact, that is bad news for this time of the year.”

Indeed, says the NASA blog, the coastal mountains stretching from Northern California on south are bone dry:

In the midst of California's Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, there are a few patches of green indicating some farms that still have access to water for irrigation. But much of the region is brown — signs of land suffering from drought stress or left fallow when it would normally be planted with crops.

“If you showed me this image without the date, I would say: ‘This is California in early fall after a long, hot summer, before the fall and winter rains and snows arrived,’” Bill Patzert, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “This is no California winter postcard.”

But it's not just a winter drought. The last 12 months have been the driest since at least 1885, NASA said. From Feb. 1, 2013, through Jan. 31, 2014, the state received an average of 6.97 inches of rain, or roughly 15 inches below the normal 22.51.

And according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 95 percent of the state is experiencing drought, with 70 percent of California in extreme or exceptional drought.

Last week, President Barack Obama toured the drought-stricken state and talked about climate change.

"We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of, 'there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water,' " Obama said while announcing $160 million in federal aid. “We're going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for. We have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.”

Watch Obama address the California drought below:

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