High and Dry: Going Up in the World

California Drought


Rate this Post: 

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Californians know the current drought is leaving them high and dry, but recent scientific findings show that they really are being left higher when they are drier!

As California’s water supplies grow lower, its mountains are rising higher! Source: USGS

It’s not just California—the entire West is on the move. The West has been suffering through two and a half years of dry weather. Lakes are evaporating, rivers are running at a trickle and snowy mountaintops are reduced to dry brown crags. Scientists report that the western United States is missing some 62 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the entire region six inches deep. That is a huge amount of water.

It is also a huge weight. What a startled group of scientists, monitoring GPS instruments that normally monitor earthquake movements, learned is that when you remove that much weightthe earth will rise. The equipment shows that the entire West is rising like an uncoiled spring. The entire region is now an average of 0.15 of an inch higher, but California, going through its worst drought in 119 years, has had its mountains grow by half an inch!

The West is dry, but 100% of California is in drought conditions with 58% in exceptional drought.

Their study, published in the August 21 issue of Science, had some comforting news. The first was that the rising did not seem to trigger or have any relationship to earthquakes. (Drilling too much underground water can trigger small quakes, but this type of movement doesn’t) Secondly, this study shows a new way for scientists to sensitively keep track of water supplies. Finally, going back, they discovered that rainfall makes the earth sink back again. The data from the 2011 rains showed the surface of California snuggling down a few millimeters and soaking up the moisture.

If El Niño arrives this winter, snow will help the California Sierras settle down again. Source: NOAA

What goes up, must come down. Hopefully, the expected El Niño will arrive this winter and the West can sink back and enjoy the rain and snow.

About This Blog

Evelyn Browning Garriss doesn't just blog about the weather forecast; she provides insight on WHY extreme weather is happening--and a heads up on weather to watch out for. A historical climatologist, Evelyn blogs about weather history, interesting facts about the weather, and upcoming climate events that affect your life--from farming to your grocery bill. Every week, we look forward to another great weather column from Evelyn. We encourage our weather watchers to post their comments and questions--and tell us what they think!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

If mountains rise because of

If mountains rise because of lack of water weight, then shouldn't the readings show the snowfall dropping at a lower elevation after a few good blizards, when in fact the mountains actually sank back to their normal position?

The mountains only rose about

The mountains only rose about half an inch, so the lower elevation will probably be too small to notice.

Back in 2011, when there was very heavy precipitation, the ground actually sank a mm or two. Unfortunately, the court ordered huge amounts of that water released for river wildlife rather than stored for future use, so now there are huge shortages.

I think after this

I think after this identification of rising and lowering of mountains due to increasing and decreasing of weight on the land saturated water, then a place should sink more if water seeks the lowest level and when water is removed, the place rises, the tallest places first, depending on equilibrium, then the lowest places, so not only are California mountains rising due to lose of water stability, the normal substraight is also, rising due to lose of that same water table or layers of water of different capacities. Depending on the stability of the soils, determines the ability of raise and fall due to increase or decrease of water weight. Lake beds usually full of water but not now will also rise due to lose of water weight so bridges, roadways and such is also moving but at different intervals due to stability, weight of structure and connectedness to the surroundings, plus adhesion and similar conditions. Thank you for this information.

Thank you for the thoughtful

Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You are right, the entire West has risen slightly with different areas rising depending on local water loss. The California mountains are the areas rising the most. It presents a challenge for engineers.

Free Beginners Garden Guide

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners!
Your complete guide on how to grow a vegetable garden—from scratch!


You will also be subscribed to our Almanac Companion Newsletter


Solar Energy Production Today

0.00 kWh

Live data from the solar array at The Old Farmer's Almanac offices in Dublin, NH.