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Brownout: California Baked by Drought

Californians looking to "go green" will have to concentrate on reducing their carbon footprints, because there's not a whole lot of green left to get to.

A drought of historic proportions has plagued the American West for the better part of a year, and California, by several measures, has taken the brunt of it.

This illustration, based on data from NASA satellites taken during the second half of January 2014, shows the Golden State is a shade or two off, as compared with data from the past decade. The brown areas depict where plant growth is below normal for the time of year, the green where vegetation is more widespread, and the gray where data was unavailable (usually due to cloud cover).

Illustration based on NASA data and satellite imagery shows the impact of drought on California’s farms, forests, and wild lands
Illustration based on NASA data and satellite imagery shows the impact of drought on California’s farms, forests, and wild lands NASA

“This is no California winter postcard,” said Bill Patzert, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “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.’”

Some snow and rain did arrive during the first half of February, but it's been the proverbial drop in the bucket for the parched California landscape. The past three months (November to January), six months and twelve months were all the driest periods in California since record-keeping started in 1885.

The drought has put a severe crimp in the state's agricultural industry and nearly emptied its reservoir supplies. Overall, nearly two thirds of the region is experiencing some level of drought.

--John Baiata