California’s drought ends (at least for now) in a blaze of wildflower glory so intense it’s visible from space

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A before-and-after animation of images acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. It shows the impact of copious winter precipitation on California’s Anza-Borrego desert landscape. Compared to the image acquired in March of last year, the one taken on March 23, 2017 is noticeably more verdant. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

After epic drought, California experienced an equally epic rainy season this past winter. And the state’s deserts have responded with an explosion of wildflowers and other vegetation.

Maybe you’ve seen those almost unreal photos of hills blanketed in emerald green grass, and bright yellow, orange and purple wildflowers? If not, check it out:

Now, NASA’s Earth Observatory has published before-and-after satellite images of the Anza-Borrego Desert showing what the spectacle looks like from space. I put them together in the animation above. And while the photos shot on the ground certainly are more dramatic, even from space, the impact of precipitation following extreme drought is quite evident.

Make no mistake about it — most of California has been deluged with precipitation. For the water year, starting on October. 1, 2016, almost all parts of the state show accumulated precipitation at well above 100 percent of average. Some locations, such as South Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, are at well over 200 percent. (Go here for the very latest precipitation update from the California Department of Water Resources.)

Animation of drought-ending precipitation

An animation of satellite-based measurements of rain, snow, and other wintry precipitation as it has accumulated over California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona this year. In the animation, daily precipitation totals are added cumulatively, from December 31, 2016, to February 20, 2017. The brightest areas on the map show as much as 1,000 millimeters of precipitation, or 39.37 inches. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

In the animation above showing total accumulated precipitation, take a look at the area of east of San Diego. That’s where the Anza-Borrego desert is located.

In the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which runs along much of the eastern border of the state, snowpack on April 10th stood at 171 percent of normal for the date. (For the latest California snowpack data, go here.)

Drought is over in the Sierra Nevada

Images acquired by a NASA satellite in April of 2015 and 2017 show a dramatic difference in snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Vegetation in the giant Central and San Joaquin valleys has also responded dramatically to all the precipitation. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

I created the animation above using an image captured by NASA’s Terra satellite on April 2, 2015, and a second one acquired by Terra’s satellite sibling, Aqua exactly two years later. The Sierra Nevada range runs diagonally across the middle. The difference in snowpack is astounding.

Also make sure to look at the giant valley in the center of the state. The southern portion is the San Joaquin Valley. In April of 2015, rusty tones across large portions of the valley are indicative of dried out vegetation. Flash forward two years, and the rusty colors have mostly been replaced by green.

A few days ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown lifted the state’s drought emergency — which was first declared in 2014 — throughout all but four counties of the state. “The drought emergency is over,” he said in a statement, while also warning that “the next drought could be around the corner.”

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