The science behind some of the world's worst droughts

April 11, 2015 12:17 PM

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The science behind some of the world's worst droughts

A drought doesn't happen overnight; it usually follows an extended time of lower-than-average precipitation. California also has a big Achilles heel when it comes to water: the Sierra Nevada, the snow-collecting mountains that that supply much of the state's water as it melts. But a lack of precipitation combined with an unusually warm 2013-2014 winter meant that the Sierra Nevada snowpack had very little in the way of liquid assets to draw on.

So what caused the extended period of dryness? Satellite data from recent years shows that atmospheric water vapor that normally passed over California was instead shunted either far north or far south of the state — probably due to an area of high atmospheric pressure, called a "ridge," that was pa...

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