November 11, 2020
Residents of the Bay Area are no strangers to the droughts of California. To many, it feels miraculous and unique when a blanket of rainy clouds replaces the translucent blue sky. According to U.S. Climate data, San Francisco receives a mere 23.66 inches of rain annually, falling well below the national average of 30 inches.
Why are there so many droughts in California? The state is used to dryness, but droughts in recent times have been the worst in its recorded history. The root of the problem is global warming. Higher temperatures make wet regions wetter and dry areas drier by causing shifts in weather patterns; for the Bay Area, storms are shifted away from the California coastline.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the longest drought since 2000 lasted 376 weeks – from 2011 to 2019. While California is no longer in an official state of emergency, over 15 million residents (41% of California’s population) remain in drought conditions. These residents may have to follow water restrictions or experience water shortages.
Plants and animals are highly vulnerable to harsh conditions, making them susceptible to terminal injury: death by dehydration, starvation, and loss of habitat are among these many challenges.
In particular, amphibians are profoundly affected by climate change. According to UCLA, it is estimated that the amphibian extinction rate is 45,000 times greater with human influence than without it.
For example, the California newt is especially hard-hit by droughts. Their habitat ranges from San Diego to the Bay Area, and they are known for their orange bellies. They can occasionally be spotted under a moist log or relaxing in a small pond. While those around the Bay area are yet to be severely affected, newts in southern California have been negatively impacted by climate change. From 2008 to 2016, their body mass has decreased by an average of 20%.
Further details are still being studied, but one thing is clear: it is only a matter of time before these effects worsen and reach the newts in the Bay Area. While California’s guidelines to reduce water use are beneficial, it is not a solution to preventing intense droughts. The problem stems from global warming and the buildup of greenhouse gasses.