California drought puts a chill on L.A. pool time

As the East Coast gets pummeled with rain and heavy snow, messing up Thanksgiving plans for thousands of travelers, folks here in Southern California are looking forward to a Turkey Day with temperatures in the 80s. Please pass the sunblock and cranberry sauce.

Enjoying day after day of nice weather makes a person feel somewhat disconnected from the meteorological travails that beset the rest of the country. Last week, when icy air and heaps of snow blasted most of the U.S., it was still possible to walk around in shorts and a T-shirt here in L.A. -- and worry about a sunburn. Newscasters kept noting that there were freezing temperatures in all 50 states, but, in California, that was in the Sierras, not in the city.

Not having lived in Los Angeles until recently, I now understand why Angelenos are generally so good-natured and laid back. Who wouldn’t be if almost every day can be a beach day? When I tell people here I moved down from Seattle, a look of pity crosses their faces and they ask how I ever survived all the rain. When I note that, for three or four months of the year, Seattle is often as dry and sunny as San Diego, the fact doesn’t even register. For them, Seattle equals rain. Chicago equals cold wind. Boston equals icy winters. New York equals humid, muggy summers. And everywhere else is just a wasteland of tornadoes, ticks and hurricanes.

Los Angeles equals sunshine. Yet, not all is serene in La La Land. There is way too much of a good thing.


This year has been the hottest on record in California. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, every area of the state is stuck in an extended drought, with about two-thirds of the state experiencing “exceptional drought,” the highest level.

The lack of rain is slamming California’s agriculture industry and, as a result, food prices are likely to shoot up all over the country. Already, the drought has cost the state more than $2 billion and has killed more than 17,000 jobs, according to a study done at the UC Davis.

As the state dries up, wildfire “season” is becoming a misnomer. Fire danger is a near constant. All those additional fires are not only burning the land, they are polluting the air. Wetter weather may come, but it is most likely to arrive as torrential rains that create mudslides yet do little to replenish groundwater, rivers and snowpack. 

UC Davis researchers do not expect the drought to end this year or next year. In fact, they predict it will stretch into 2016. This means water is going to get even more scarce. There will be a lot less for irrigation, for drinking, for taking showers, for watering golf courses, for washing cars, not to mention the low river levels that will inhibit salmon from swimming out to sea.


In various parts of the state, mandatory restrictions on consumption have been put in place to conserve water supplies. In a few remote towns in Central California, though, it is already too late. Wells have gone completely dry and residents drive to towns miles away to get a ration of water to take back home.

All of this sends a little metaphorical gray cloud into the sunny sky. When pondering the fate of those poor schmucks back in Buffalo with a mountain of melting snow covering their front lawns, it’s no longer easy to feel smug. Sure, lying back and relaxing in a lounge chair in the sunshine is better than shoveling slush, but it’s not quite the same when the shimmering swimming pool a few steps away only reminds you it may need to be drained one day so your family will have something to drink.