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BBC’s Californian Megadrought Fairy Tale

March 15, 2021

By Paul Homewood


This garbage is laughingly presented as a factual piece!




In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. Here, we look at the effects of extreme weather on a crucial reservoir that supplies water to millions of people in northern California.

This year is likely to be critically dry for California. Winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across the state are not expected to be substantial enough to counterbalance drought conditions.

Lake Oroville plays a key role in California’s complex water delivery system.

This 65km-square body of water north of Sacramento is the second-largest reservoir in California.

Not only does Lake Oroville store water, it helps control flooding elsewhere in the region, assists with the maintenance of water quality and boosts the health of fisheries downstream.

In 2014, more than 80% of California was in the grip of an "extreme drought". Against this backdrop, Oroville’s capacity fell to 30% – a historic low level.

As the water level receded to hundreds of feet below normal levels, ramps and roads no longer reached the water’s edge.

More worryingly, the reservoir – when full – provided enough water for an estimated seven million households, as well as providing power for hydroelectricity facilities and irrigation for agricultural land.


‘Unusually destructive’

The dry conditions didn’t start in 2014, however, there had been a drought for years prior to Oroville recording its historic low level.

Indeed, the US space agency’s Earth Observatory had warned that the multi-year drought was having a wider impact on the region. Among its effects was a contribution to "unusually active and destructive" fire seasons and poor yields from agricultural land.

"There is strong evidence from climate models and centuries of tree ring data that suggest about one-third to one-half of the severity of the current drought can be attributed to climate change," observed Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Agency scientists added that the data suggested a "megadrought" might already be underway in this region – and that it could last for decades.

The latest update from the US Drought Monitor in December 2020, showed that much of the country’s western states were gripped by extreme or exceptional drought, with Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, Colorado and western Texas being the worst affected.

The damaged spillway and the eroded hillside at the Oroville Dam

The emergency spillway at the dam was predicted to collapse


From one extreme…

Climate change is not just about a warmer world, it also means that the planet will see more extreme environmental conditions and weather. So, for example, episodes of flooding will increase, as well as episodes of droughts.

Lake Oroville was a perfect illustration of how these extremes can threaten our existing infrastructure.

While the lake’s levels reached a historic low in 2014, the reservoir’s vast embankment dam – the tallest in the US – was pushed to breaking point in February 2017.

Following fierce storms in the surrounding mountains, water was flowing into the lake at a rate of roughly one-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools each second.

In the space of two years, the lake went from an unprecedented low to a capacity that had not been experienced before. Water cascaded over the emergency spillways, which had not previously been required.


When we look at the actual data however, we find that the 2014 drought was not unprecedented – worse droughts had occurred in 1923/4 and 1976/7. Nor were the years leading up to 2014 particularly dry. Megadrought it most certainly was not!


Climate at a Glance | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) (

It is also apparent that California’s climate annual rainfall has always swung  from one extreme to another. Plainly the heavy rainfall which led to the overspill at Oroville was not unprecedented either.

Nor is there any evidence that this year will be “critically dry”, with winter rainfall only the 19th lowest on record. Clearly there is no trend either towards drier winters.


Taking a longer perspective, the chart from NOAA below shows that droughts have regularly been much worse in the past:



As I started by saying, this is presented as a factual piece. Let us examine two specific statements:

1) Agency scientists added that the data suggested a "megadrought" might already be underway in this region – and that it could last for decades.

As we have seen, since 2014 rainfall has returned to typical levels for California.


 2) Climate change is not just about a warmer world, it also means that the planet will see more extreme environmental conditions and weather. So, for example, episodes of flooding will increase, as well as episodes of droughts.

Regardless of climate models may say about the future, the weather in California is no more extreme than it has always been.

  1. Jack Broughton permalink
    March 15, 2021 11:25 am

    Unfortunately this drivel is all over the “popular press” and people are being brainwashed into belief that the lies must be true, in Orwellian doublespeak (or Goebellian big-lie) style. Sadly, with Biden and Nut-nut now in control, there will be no counter to this appalling abuse of science: we are doomed!

  2. Mad Mike permalink
    March 15, 2021 11:42 am

    Aside from the rainfall issue, the population of California has grown from 2 mn in 1900 to 10 mn in 1950 and then to 40 mn in 2019. It is the most populous state in the US and is basically a desert. Anybody that has been to California couldn’t fail to see the wasteful use of water with garden sprinklers, car washes etc. everywhere.

    This all comes at a cost and there was a scandal a couple of years back when people were subjected to rationing because of the lack of investment in the water system. There’s no shortage of rainfall but the lack of reservoir capacity enables most of it to run off back to the sea.

    The pressure on the reservoir system is enormous and growing so if you are shown photos of reservoirs with low reserves just bear that in mind.

    • Curious George permalink
      March 15, 2021 4:05 pm

      Twenty years ago we were asked to conserve water because of drought. And we did. Utilities sold less water and had to increase prices. Prices never went back down.

  3. dennisambler permalink
    March 15, 2021 11:44 am

    Researchers Find Evidence Of 16th Century Epic Drought Over North America
    February 8, 2000

    “A group of researchers who study tree ring records have found evidence of a “mega-drought” in the 16th century that wreaked havoc for decades in the lives of the early Spanish and English settlers and American Indians throughout Mexico and North America.”
    “The most striking aspect of the period of American climate, between the 2nd and 16th Centuries, is the incidence, extent, prevalence, duration and severity of droughts, throughout the Americas; particularly – but by no means exclusively – over western and central regions of the Americas.

    These droughts often lasted for a decade or longer and have been dubbed meagadroughts. Two droughts, in California and Patagonia, each lasted for well over 100 years and have been described as epic droughts.”

    • Broadlands permalink
      March 15, 2021 3:29 pm

      California? 1898 was the third driest year on record (1895-2015)…

      “The drought of 1898 was, if possible, more devastating in its effects than previous droughts except that of 1862-1864. The southern half of the state was most severely affected, grasses drying as early as March so that cattlemen were in search of northern ranges early in the year. Lacking grazing facilities or the ability to transfer their herds long distances to better pastures, cattle producers found their stock dying in droves before the end of the summer. Even in the usually humid Pajaro Valley in Monterey County cattlemen resorted to the felling of trees in order to obtain the moss and browse from their branches, Tulare Lake, which had been the succor of thousands of cattle during the drought of 1862-1865, went dry during the summer of 1898.”


    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      March 15, 2021 9:53 pm

      We live and learn; I always thought that The Mayflower transported settlers to the NE not the SW, in the seventeenth century.

  4. March 15, 2021 11:48 am

    That California has periods of extreme drought is not news. Their vegetation is “Chaparral”. In the botanical world, it is the Mediterranean Sclerophyll Forest Formation. It is also prevalent in coastal areas of Australia and elsewhere.

    Sclerophyllous leaves are those with a woody/leathery component which make them drought tolerant. They also contain many resins which act to deter herbivory and also burn readily. Accordingly, areas survive not only prolonged periods of drought, but flash fires. The fires clear out the brush, litter and other competing species, but do not kill the roots of these shrubby species which re-sprout the following season.

  5. Tim Spence permalink
    March 15, 2021 12:03 pm

    Isn’t there a famous song that goes … seems like it never rains in Southern California?

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      March 15, 2021 1:47 pm

      Seems it pours

      Seems it never rains in southern California
      Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
      It never rains in California
      But girl, don’t they warn ya?
      It pours, man, it pours

      • March 15, 2021 2:15 pm

        Albert Hammond!!

        Did you know he was Portuguese?

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        March 15, 2021 7:11 pm

        Doesn’t sound Portuguese when he talks. It must be the air that he breathes!

  6. El Toro permalink
    March 15, 2021 12:10 pm

    Off topic, maybe, but BBC related: yesterday’s Countryfile featured Tom Heap arriving at British Wool in Bradford, driving a Nissan Qashqai N-Connecta Dig-T S-A (1.3 litre petrol engine, £150 annual tax). Not electric, not hybrid. The car’s marque, colour and registration were clearly visible. So how does this square with the BBC orthodoxy? Perhaps Tom Heap doesn’t really believe in green cr*p after all?

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      March 15, 2021 2:01 pm

      Tom Heap is typical of modern greens. Like Harrabin he seems to have had his smile muscles disconnected.

      I actually watched last night’s programme. The part about sheep farming was relevant for me, I grew uo on a hill sheep farm, we didn’t do the farming. My ancestors were displaced by sheep mainly in the 19th century. I have happy memories of packing wool shacks, dipping sheep. But especially sitting in the sun having soda scones and cheese for lunch washed down with Red Kola.

      Does the current low price for meat and wool and struggle to survive mean the end to sheep farming, sad day for me if if does. On the other hand Monbiot will be happy if it is, although he is probably unaware one ofthe problems is the use of fossilfuel based manmade fibres

    • March 15, 2021 2:19 pm

      At last some good EV news, they will reduce inflation, and hence reduce the taxation needed to pay for the index-linked public sector. They have been added to the “inflation-basket”, and will inevitably fall in price:

  7. March 15, 2021 12:11 pm

    The BBC thinks Lake Oroville is 65 km-square – wow! That’s an area equivalent to 65km x 65km or 4,225 sq km. Did they mean 65 sq km? – actually, it’s 64.75 sq km I think.

    • Curious George permalink
      March 15, 2021 4:35 pm

      Please spell 65 km2.

      • tomo permalink
        March 15, 2021 8:56 pm

        apropos of not much …

        I’m still marveling (reeling) at a UK National Grid executive talking about domestic electric supply and confusing 80 Amps(19kW) with 80kW (333 Amps)

        – not that anybody at the BBC would notice

  8. March 15, 2021 12:45 pm

    In my computer folder of AGW articles, one of the largest sub-folders is of “BBC activism and lies” – this is just one more example to add.

    Well done Paul for calling them out, every time.

    • March 15, 2021 12:52 pm

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had the capability of adding a Fact Check on their own website and posting something like this article after all their deceitful lies. Yes, I like to dream!

  9. It doesn't add up... permalink
    March 15, 2021 12:46 pm

    Surely a Meghan drought would be most welcome?

  10. Beagle permalink
    March 15, 2021 1:23 pm

    The BBC even had to get a dig in their article about the effect Covid has had on hospital appointments and they say that remote consultations are here to stay.
    Then they finish by saying they are reducing harm to the environment.

    ” In some cases a virtual appointment is no replacement for a hospital visit, but if we can safely reduce ambulance trips and car journeys, then we can improve convenience for patients and reduce harm to our environment.”

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 15, 2021 1:41 pm

      I think there needs to be a proper study about the extent of misdiagnosis by telephone before anyone regards it as beneficial. There can also be cases where a doctor will notice something important the patient has missed, but only if they see the patient in person. For example, I know someone who was diagnosed with a tumour that at a minimum threatened her sight, and possibly her life, that was only diagnosed because she went to see the doctor about something entirely different.

      • Beagle permalink
        March 15, 2021 4:26 pm

        IDAU, actually that happened to me some years ago. I went to the doctor with a particular problem and happened to mention a ‘minor’ issue I had. After we had discussed the original issue he said right back to the little problem you mentioned. He had me straight on the 2 week referral and before I knew where I was had a major operation, which I luckily survived.

  11. March 15, 2021 1:26 pm

    Desperation in the climate camp???

    • James Neill permalink
      March 15, 2021 2:42 pm

      Nope! Just stoking the flames of hysteria, panic and fear amongst the plebs to make COP26 a green success!

      • March 15, 2021 2:45 pm

        Thanks. Makes sense. Lot of fireworks needed i guess.

  12. Don B permalink
    March 15, 2021 3:42 pm

    The NY Times in 1994, when it was less of an activist of record:

    “BEGINNING about 1,100 years ago, what is now California baked in two droughts, the first lasting 220 years and the second 140 years. Each was much more intense than the mere six-year dry spells that afflict modern California from time to time, new studies of past climates show. The findings suggest, in fact, that relatively wet periods like the 20th century have been the exception rather than the rule in California for at least the last 3,500 years, and that mega-droughts are likely to recur……

    “This method identified droughts lasting from A.D. 892 to A.D. 1112 and from A.D. 1209 to A.D. 1350. Judging by how far the water levels dropped during these periods — as much as 50 feet in some cases — Dr. Stine concluded that the droughts were not only much longer, they were far more severe than either the drought of 1928 to 1934, California’s worst in modern times, or the more recent severe dry spell of 1987 to 1992.”

  13. Cheshire Red permalink
    March 15, 2021 4:45 pm

    The people who would normally hold this sort of disinformation to account – by sacking on the spot any ‘journalist’ and / or Ed’ daft enough to pen or publish this tripe, no longer exist.

    They’re either removed from the BBC, retired or dead.

    Same goes for our political class.

    Instead the country is run and managed by liars, cheats, spin merchants and outright fra*ds. Until that changes this country is finished.

  14. March 15, 2021 5:07 pm

    Goebbels Description of the “Big Lie”

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      March 15, 2021 10:01 pm

      The new slogan for the BBC — “Never let the facts stand in the way of a Climate story”.

  15. March 15, 2021 5:47 pm

    here’s what a ‘megadrought’ in CA actually looks like – 400+ years of persistent extreme drought.

  16. Mack permalink
    March 15, 2021 6:36 pm

    On the same section of the BBC website there is another junk article from Matt McGrath about the ‘climate change’ threat of rapidly warming seas to the survival of Mediterranean Sea Grass, one of Mother Nature’s great ‘carbon sinks’. The only problem with his narrative being that, thus far, the sea grass hasn’t been damaged by warming seas but by reckless boat tourism and coastal pollution. Still, if it ramps up the alarm, just chuck a ‘climate change’ monicker on alongside projected temperature rises and the job’s a good un. I couldn’t cut my grass today because it was raining. Climate change, obviously.

    • March 15, 2021 7:25 pm

      Got a link?

      • tomo permalink
        March 15, 2021 9:09 pm

        McGrath carefully swerves links … The Forever Plant – delicate etcetera…

        I found one independently on the same Balearic meadows with an extraordinary graph in it … for “% seagrass area colonised” that has an uninterrupted series of annual data points looking to extend neatly back to 1890 – a triumph for Spanish science – not even a break for the civil war!

        Since GIS has become ubiquitous in offshore survey near all projects use it as a planning and reporting tool – and it works well. That said – the BBC piece swerves referencing *any& actual papers and reproducing *any* nice GIS maps… and that is something of a red flag as far as I’m concerned.

      • tomo permalink
        March 15, 2021 10:27 pm

        there’s been a rash of seagrass stories… It’s possible that seagrass is the new Polar Bear

      • Mack permalink
        March 15, 2021 10:45 pm

        Sorry Paul, the ever reliable Mr Grim Nasty has provided the link in response to your next post. It’s worth looking at the sea temperature claims in the article, as quoted by McGrath and the doomster scientist he relies upon for his narrative, and the official sea temperature figures. I had a quick look at NOOA’s figures for the area and they don’t seem to correspond.

    • March 15, 2021 9:22 pm

      And there’s the ” great man-made ‘carbon sinks.”

      This graced the front page of the Los Angeles Times this weekend. I’d said ‘soiled’ the front page, but there was so much competition for the award.

      “WASHINGTON — Dominic Bruno is not closely tracking the greenhouse gas soaking into the dirt beneath the walnut trees, sunflowers and melon vines at River Garden Farms in Yolo County, where the state of California spent $97,000 this year to create a 15,000-acre emissions sponge.”

  17. Ben Vorlich permalink
    March 15, 2021 6:44 pm

    Summer droughts in Europe are now ‘far more severe’ than anything in the past 2,100 YEARS due to climate change, study warns

  18. March 16, 2021 1:27 pm

    Reservoir levels dependent on usage can’t be a reliable guide to weather patterns, even if some linkage is accepted. For example if population increases in a region but local reservoir capacity doesn’t, levels would logically be affected.

    strong evidence from climate models and centuries of tree ring data that suggest…

    Only to the suggestible 🥱

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