NASA image shows drought's effect on Central Coast

Feb 19, 2014

The Central Coast is isolated in this cropped version of a composite NASA image showing California's vegetation anomaly from Jan. 17 to Feb. 1, 2014.
Credit NASA Image of the Day

A new image from NASA helps put into perspective one component of California's exceptionally dry winter—its effect on the vegetation found in state's grasslands, farms, and forests.

Using a series of images captured through the latter half of January, NASA came up with a composite map highlighting areas of vegetation growth. The image was created by using a specialized sprectroradiometer to compare current plant health to the average for the same period over the past decade.

Those areas that fell below average show up as brown, while areas with above average vegetation are represented with green.

California Central Coast shows up as predominately brown in the NASA image, as typical winter grasses failed to sprout on this year's bone-dry hillsides. Some of the region's agricultural plots show up as green patches, indicating some farms are still able to access water for irrigation.

Areas of green along the Sierra Nevada that could indicate signs of healthy growth are in fact "bad news for this time of year" according to NASA vegetation expert Ramakrishna Nemani. The problem is, those areas would typically be snow-covered, but this year the vegetation lay exposed. The result is anomalous green on the map.

"This is no California winter postcard." - NASA Scientist Bill Patzert

Bill Patzert, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said this image reminds him of California after a long, hot summer—not the mid-winter snapshot it actually represents.