RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. While the East Coast digs out from a major winter storm and the Midwest braces for heavy snow and subzero temperatures, California is praying for rain. The state just finished one of the driest years on record. And that has water managers, farmers and others worried. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES CRASHING)
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: It's a pretty nice Friday morning on Venice Beach in Southern California. It's in the 60s, with a breeze. You can hear the waves of the Pacific crash against the sand. The sun is shining, but there's a heavy ocean cloud layer kind of blocking it out. Scott and Sue Nolan are visiting from Houston, playing kickball in the sand with their son. They are grateful to be in this mild, if not perfectly sunny, weather.
SUE NOLAN: I talked to my mother on Cape Cod, just a few minutes ago, where they're getting, you know, hit by the blizzard, so this is still nice compared to that.
SCOTT NOLAN: What, they have 15 inches?
SANDERS: Nolan says they came here for the sun, and the general lack of any precipitation, but she noticed this trip is a little too dry.
NOLAN: One of the thoughts when we're driving thru town was how are they sustaining all this with what you see so dry everywhere.
SANDERS: The Nolans are seeing the effects of California's lingering drought. Going on three years now, rain and snowfall in the state have been extremely low. The California Department of Water Resources says much of the drought the state is experiencing can be attributed to climate change. In a normal year, Los Angeles gets close to 15 inches of rain. In 2013, L.A. got about three and a half. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that almost 95 percent of California is enduring some level of drought.
ALAN HAYNES: We're coming off two years of below normal precipitation. And we've had an exceptionally dry past twelve months. In fact, one of the driest calendar year on record in lots of locations.
SANDERS: Alan Haynes is a hydrologist with the California and Nevada River Forecast Center. He says the lack of snow in Northern California affects the entire state.
HAYNES: It's a very complicated picture as far as how people get water. But typically, in most cases, it's irrigation - water that comes from somewhere other than locally.
SANDERS: Lots of people in California get their water from the Sierra Nevada snow packs. Those snow packs, though, are only at 20 percent of average right now. And there's a danger that becomes more commonplace in a California drought - wildfires. The dry conditions could mean more and bigger fires in the future. California's water woes might soon begin to affect the entire country because California is America's number one food and agricultural producer. A drought could push up food prices. As far as the forecast for future rain? Jeanine Jones with the Department of Water Resources has a bleak outlook.
JEANINE JONES: Our seasonal forecast says that the odds point to dry. Currently in terms of the longer range weather forecast, we're not seeing any significant relief in the next couple of weeks.
SANDERS: California's Governor Jerry Brown has convened a drought task force. It will convene weekly to help the state prepare for what could be a very dry 2014. Sam Sanders, NPR News.