Images from space show California’s forests and lakes drying out in a record mega-drought

artificial lake, Shadow Lake Estates, next to desert landscape in
Indio, California on June 29, 2021.


Summary List Placement

The climate crisis is bearing down hard on the western US.

Historic drought and heat
are converging on western states to
create the perfect storm for depleted reservoirs, strained power
grids, and rampant wildfires later this summer. The effects are
so stark, you can see them from space.

Satellite images show that the hills outside Los Angeles are
significantly more parched, brown, and dry than they were this
time last year. Drag the slider back and forth on the below image
to see the difference.

“I’m worried about this summer,” Kathleen Johnson, a
paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Irvine,
told The Guardian.
“This current drought is potentially on track to become the worst
that we’ve seen in at least 1,200 years. And the reason is linked
directly to human-caused climate change.”

In the US Drought Monitor’s 20-year history of tracking drought,
the West and Southwest are
drier than they’ve ever been
. California Gov. Gavin Newsom
has now declared drought emergencies in 41 of the state’s 58
counties, encompassing 30% of California’s population.

Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California and, like many
western lakes, it has receded significantly over the past few
months. NASA satellite images below show a bathtub ring — white
layers of calcium carbonate and other minerals exposed when the
water level drops — along the lake’s shorelines.

The reservoir is at just 38% of its full capacity — 48% of the
historical average, according to California’s
Department of Water Resources

California’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, has fallen
to historically low levels, too. Normally, the lake’s water pumps
through the Edward Hyatt Power Plant to generate electricity for
800,000 homes. But officials told CNN that they
expect the low water levels will force the plant to close in late

lake oroville full june 2019 and dry receding june 2021
Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, on June 4, 2019
(left) and June 9, 2021 (right).

Earth Observatory/USGS/Lauren Dauphin

“A lot of the slack in our system has already been used up,”
Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist in the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told
The Guardian

A climate emergency is raising temperatures, straining power
grids, and sparking fires

An ever-growing body of research shows that drought events are
becoming more common and more severe as human activity fills the
atmosphere with heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide and

Rising global temperatures are changing the western US
profoundly: Warmer air causes more moisture to evaporate, drying
out soil. That raises the risk of drought and leaves forests full
of tinder-dry foliage, primed for wildfires.

wildfire smoke plumes over dry hills and a highway road
plumes rise from a wildfire in Arizona on June 7,

Department of Forestry and Fire Management via

Heat waves only make the situation worse. They’re occuring three
times more often and lasting about a day longer than they did in
the 1960s, according to records of
such waves across 50 US cities. They also start earlier and
continue later into the year — the heat-wave season is 47 days
longer than it was in the 1960s.

Two record-shattering heat waves struck western states in June.
The first one washed over the Southwest and
strained California’s power grid
. Temperatures reached 116
degrees Fahrenheit in Las Vegas, Nevada; 115 degrees in Phoenix,
Arizona; and topped 110 degrees for eight days straight in
Tucson, Arizona.

heat map shows heat wave across US southwest
temperatures across the continental US during the afternoon of
June 15, 2021.

Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens/GEOS-5

most recent heat wave
rolled over the Pacific Northwest last
weekend and sat there for several days.

Many of the cities that were hit hardest, including Seattle and
Portland, have never experienced such temperatures — in some
cases breaking their previous records by double digits.
Temperatures in Lytton, a town in British Columbia, hit 116
degrees Fahrenheit — the highest temperature ever recorded in
Canada. The town broke that record the following day, when
temperatures climbed to 118 degrees.

It’s not yet clear how many people
died from heat-related illness
during the Pacific Northwest
heat wave, but
the Associated Press reported
that the death toll is likely
in the hundreds.

Fire department helps man in Oregon amidst heat wave
Emergency personnel help
treat a man experiencing heat exposure at a cooling center during
a heat wave in Salem, Oregon on June 26, 2021.

AP Photo/Nathan Howard

“Much of the western United States will continue the trend of hot
and dry weather, much like the summer of 2020,” Brandon
Buckingham, a meteorologist at AccuWeather,
told Insider last month
. “Each and every western heat wave
throughout the summer will only heighten wildfire risks.”

Heat waves also prompt people to crank up air conditioners,
causing energy demand to spike. This can strain the power grid
and lead to rolling blackouts.

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