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Environment

California Browning, on Such a Winters' Day

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An animation of satellite images shows what looks like a browning of California since heavy precipitation fell in December. (Source: NASA) Sorry, but I just couldn't help the reference in the headline to California Dreamin' by the Mamas & the Papas. But it came to mind when I compared satellite images of California acquired just 11 days apart. The images come from NASA's Aqua satellite, and I've made them into the animation above. The first was captured by the Aqua satellite on Dec. 28th, 2014. To my eye, the landscape still shows a fair bit of green brought on by storms earlier in the month. The second image was acquired in the new year, on Jan. 7th. I processed both images to try to get the exposure levels consistent so that a comparison would be meaningful. And to my eye, it does look like California has been browning — and over an alarmingly short period. But I have to include a big caveat: Some or all of what we see here could be an artifact of the imaging itself and therefore may not be wholly real. So if you live in California, and you have noticed browning of the landscape over the past couple of weeks, please share your observations in the comments section. We do know a few things for sure. First, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is shrinking. On December 28th, the snowpack was 52 percent of normal for the date. By January 7th, it had melted down to just 40 percent of normal. (You can check Sierra snowpack here.) I think the animation shows this pretty well. We also know that the year has gotten off to a warm start in California — after the state experienced its warmest year on record. As the Sacramento Bee put it in a story today:

The high pressure ridge over the west coast has consistently delivered temperatures around 60 degrees in the Sacramento region, which is nearly 10 degrees above normal for early January.

So I'm inclined to think that the apparent browning in the animation is real.

In any case, now that the odds of a full blown El Niño are fading, hopes for an end to California's epic drought are withering. But we still have a good part of the winter to go.

Fingers crossed...

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