In the early 2010s, California endured a very severe drought that killed millions of trees and fueled horrific wildfires. That was followed by a total reversal in 2017, the state’s second-wettest year on record, which caused landslides, evacuations and $1 billion in damages to roads and highways.
Sound familiar? Six years later, Californians have lived through yet another cycle of lengthy drought followed by record-breaking destructive rains. Dozens of atmospheric rivers over the winter removed all of the state from drought conditions.
The transformation from drought to deluge and back again can feel so complete that it’s easy to forget what conditions were like just a few years before, or how long we’ve been lurching between the two. That’s been true for generations, as John Steinbeck observed in “East of Eden”: “During the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
In an article for The New York Times Magazine’s California issue, Brooke Jarvis examined how these climate swings have shaped the Golden State. She also covered how scientists think we should prepare for a future in which California’s precipitation extremes are even more extreme.
Though the state’s average precipitation has stayed fairly steady, less of the water now falls as snow because of climate change. That’s a problem, Brooke explained, because California has relied on its snowpack as a natural reservoir that melts well after the wet season ends. Now, more time passes between rainy periods, so droughts become increasingly severe. And the storms themselves are more sudden and intense, and therefore more likely to cause floods, burst levees and overflow reservoirs.
How California confronts this new reality — by preparing for megafloods, improving groundwater storage and shifting away from water-intensive crops, for example — will offer lessons for the rest of the country.
“This is the reality that’s waiting for so many other parts of the world,” Brooke told me. California is “sort of a harbinger,” she said. “The rest of us will be facing more and more of these hard decisions.”
She added, “These problems are not going to stay there.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Phyllis James:
Jack London State Historic Park is my favorite park, and I have visited numerous parks all over the state. It combines the natural beauty of Sonoma County with the literary heritage of two giants of California history, Jack London and his wife Charmian. If you are not a hiker or a lover of the outdoors, you can still enjoy the family museums to explore the lives of two pioneers of California agriculture and literature. You can picnic among giant oak trees and hike multiple trails with splendid views of the Sonoma Valley.
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
After our very wet winter, summer is finally upon us. What’s the best part of the season in California?
Email me at CAToday@nytimes.com. Please include your name and the city where you live.
And before you go, some good news
On a recent visit to Berkeley, I stumbled upon 1951 Coffee Company, a nonprofit cafe that opened in 2017 and is entirely staffed by refugees, asylum seekers and special immigrant visa holders.
Among its baristas are people who left Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal, Bhutan, Uganda and Syria after facing political, religious or ethnic persecution, The Los Angeles Times reported when the cafe opened. Its founders wanted to create jobs for refugees that would help them assimilate and feel comfortable in their new communities, according to the paper.
“It’s difficult to be a new person in a new country,” said Tedros Abraha, a barista who resettled in Oakland after fleeing Eritrea, where he had been a political prisoner. “But being here, in the U.S., you get respect and recognition. The most important thing is to live with dignity.”