For the past three years (2012-2014), California has experienced the most severe drought conditions in its last century. But how unusual is this event? Here we use two paleoclimate reconstructions of drought and precipitation for Central and Southern California to place this current event in the context of the last millennium. We demonstrate that while 3 year periods of persistent below-average soil moisture are not uncommon, the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years. Tree ring chronologies extended through the 2014 growing season reveal that precipitation during the drought has been anomalously low but not outside the range of natural variability. The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures. Key Points Tree rings reveal California drought severity is unusual in 1200 years2012-2014 precipitation deficits severe but not exceptional in paleocontextRecord high temperatures exacerbate moisture deficit for extraordinary drought
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- tree rings