California Drought Builds; No Winter Relief in Sight

By Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
December 24, 2013; 3:05 AM ET
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Fire crews work to contain the fire atop Pfeiffer Ridge, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, in Big Sur, Calif. The wildfire burning Monday in the Big Sur area of California destroyed at least 15 homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate as it chewed through dry vegetation on its way toward the ocean. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

California is heading into its third consecutive dry winter with no relief in sight.

Extremely dry vegetation and flame-fanning winds fueled a late-fall blaze in Big Sur, which began on Dec. 16.

It is now fully contained, after destroying dozens of homes and forcing about 100 evacuations last week. The blaze burned more than 900 acres.

While the cause remains unknown, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the drought conditions are a dangerous setup.

"Usually it's wetter by this time of year, but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain," Lynn Olson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Associated Press.

"The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."

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Currently, more than 75 percent of the state is enduring some degree of drought, while nearly 8 percent is suffering from extreme to exceptional drought.

Fire season for the area usually dies down after the middle of fall, when rain is more common for the region. December kicks off the wet season for the year, as monthly precipitation totals build through March.

This year, however, could mark an exception to the norm.

"It will remain dry through February and probably early March in California," Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

"It's possible that a system or two could reach the state, but not enough to put a dent in the drought."

Winter 2013-2014 could become the third consecutive dry winter for the California, which relies on snowpack to boost the water supply in its reservoirs.

California's drought has worsened this year overall making it the driest state in the West as of mid-December. Oregon and Nevada take a close second and third, respectively.

"2013 will probably end up the driest year on record for the state of California," Pastelok said. "The reservoirs are already hurting from last winter's drought; this will be a serious situation."

Meanwhile, most of the U.S. has seen significant improvement over the course of 2013.

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