An instrument aboard a satellite that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base more than 14 years ago captured a dramatic depiction of California’s drought.
The images were taken a year apart by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite which launched aboard an Atlas 2AS rocket Dec. 18, 1999.
Terra is the flagship of NASA’s Earth Observing System spacecraft.
“The most striking difference between the two years is the amount of snow cover on mountains. The Sierra Nevada range has very little snow, and Coast Range and Cascade Mountains are almost completely snow free,” Earth Observatory officials said.
This is critical because California gets a third of its water supply from mountain snow, but with warm, dry weather, little snow has accumulated.
This January, the snowpack was between 10 percent and 30 percent of normal, official said.
“Since much of the snow pack can come from just a few events, one or two big storms could make a significant difference,” officials noted.
Less striking at first glance, but just as telling is the condition of the vegetation west of the Sierra Nevada. In 2013 — a year into the drought — the Central San Joaquin Valley was green with growing crops. The coastal hills were also green from winter rain. In 2014, everything west of the forested mountains is brown. Even irrigated agriculture in the center of the state appears to be limited compared to 2013.
“Under such conditions, California may be prone to water shortages, crop loss and the loss of farm jobs, and increased wildfires, warned the emergency proclamation.”