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California Has Driest Year Ever -- And It May Get Worse

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The shore of California’s Lake Oroville hasn’t looked this way in modern history. Cracked dry mud shatters the canyon floor, and buoys rest 10 feet up the side of a shale hill. The remains of two vehicles -- crashed long ago -- rise from the mud like shipwrecks at low tide. The lake is only 36 percent full.

To the north, Lake Shasta also is only 36 percent full. Farther south in the heart of Central Valley, San Luis Reservoir is at a dismal 30 percent capacity. The story is the same at Bass Lake, Lake Tahoe and Folsom Lake, where Muslims recently held a prayer service for rain.

For California, 2013 was the driest year since the state started measuring rainfall in 1849, before it was a state, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, or UCAR, a consortium of 75 schools. Low rainfall has shattered records in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shasta and on up to Eugene, Ore.

And if rain doesn't fall soon, the worst may be yet to come.

"As impressive as the 2013 rainfall records are, those who watch California weather will be even more focused on what happens over the next several months," UCAR wrote this week in an analysis. "[And] the 2013–14 water year is off to a rotten start."

The Sierra snow pack, where the state gets about a third of its water, was 84 percent below average as of Jan. 10.

Meteorologists say the reason behind the low precipitation is a massive zone of high pressure nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long that has been blocking storms for more than a year. Meteorologist Daniel Swain has dubbed it "The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge."

"It's like the Sierra -- a mountain range just sitting off the West Coast -- only bigger," Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, told the San Jose Mercury News. "This ridge is sort of a mountain in the atmosphere. In most years, it comes and goes. This year it came and didn't go."

The consequences may be grave.

"Each day that passes without meaningful precipitation is another day when our long-term deficits grow measurably larger," wrote Swain.

Though lawmakers have been pushing, California Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet officially declared a drought. At a press conference on Monday, Brown indicated he would soon.

"It's coming within the next few days," said Brown at the press conference. "But don't think that a letter from the governor's office is going to affect the rain."

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U.S. Drought 2012-2013
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