With record warmth, record lack of rain, and three years of official drought upon us, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution looked nearly as far back in history as they could and concluded that this the worst drought ever seen in California.

How'd they do it?

They examined blue oak tree-ring samples in Southern and Central California. That allowed them to determine patterns of water feast and famine for the perennials going back a whopping 1,200 years.


“We were genuinely surprised at the result,” said Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, said.

Three-year dry spells and past “mega-droughts” are not uncommon in our neck of America, the researchers found. But this record drought, paired with historically high temperatures, is something never before seen.

A summary of the research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, explains that “the current short-term drought appears to be worse than any previous span of consecutive years of drought without reprieve.”

In other words, it's epic.

Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr

Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr

Which is a little strange given that we got some decent rain last week and given that we could possibly get more by week's end.

But remember this is about the big picture, dating back to the 13th Century. So why is it so bad now?

Well, you can probably guess where this is headed: Global warming. Kevin Anchukaitis, an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

 … There is no doubt that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems.

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