May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Extreme Drought and Warmth of 2013-14 Across California – Looking Back to Forecast Our Summer

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Alex Tardy

The winter of 2013-14 will go into the record books in the top five warmest and driest for California. The record warmth is an average of low and high temperatures from October to April, which is typically the wet, cooler season for the West Coast. The lack of precipitation this past winter, and since January 2011, has led to the severe-to-extreme drought conditions in California. Precipitation deficits for most areas range from one to two seasons of missing precipitation, which equates to 12 to 30 inches below normal across southern California. For the period October to April 2014, the precipitation was between 25 and 50 percent of normal for most areas.

The extreme drought conditions have taken a toll on water supplies with major reservoirs in California only 50 percent full and at 65 percent of the historical average for April. Normal snowmelt is not expected to result in the typical late spring runoff and replenishment of water supply. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, where much of the source of the water supply originates, is at all-time low levels that are 10 to 25 percent of normal. This is the lowest observed snowpack water content since 1976-77, which was the worse drought on record for California. The winter of 2013-14 featured a very dry start but did have significant precipitation from mid-February to late March. This resulted from a few significant Atmospheric River events and led to most of the seasonal total. The precipitation deficit has been most severe in south central California where the agriculture has been impacted, wells have dried up, and local water supplies are very low.

Satellite depiction of Atmospheric River episodes in the Pacific which impacted the West Coast with heavy precipitation in 2014. Courtesy of Sheldon Kusselson at NOAA

Satellite depiction of Atmospheric River episodes in the Pacific which impacted the West Coast with heavy precipitation in 2014.
Courtesy of Sheldon Kusselson at NOAA

For more about water and water supply issues in California, visit Aquapedia and Aquafornia. As part of the Water Education Foundation’s goal of educating the public on water issues in the West and in California, Aquapedia uses Foundation publications and other vetted resources to reach the growing number of people who receive their information via digital formats. Use this valuable information and site the Water Education Foundation as your resource. Aquapedia centers on resource articles supplemented with photos, videos, interactive maps and other online tools, which provide background and context to understand California’s complex water issues.



After the record warm winter season (October to April) and much below average precipitation (third year in a row), the outlook for summer 2014 is warmer than normal conditions with periods of active monsoon thunderstorms in the deserts and mountains.

Due to the ongoing drought, the fire danger is much higher than normal and those fires that occur will have the potential for extreme behavior and growth. Drought monitoring maps (updated weekly) are available from the National Drought Mitigation Center. Across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, average sea surface temperatures are expected to warm into an El Niño state this summer and fall. (For current information about El Niño, including educational resources, visit the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center website.) However, it is uncertain how much impact this may have in the 2014-15 winter wet season. Historically, several El Niño winters have brought normal to below normal precipitation. Only the strong phase of the El Niño has been the most consistent with above normal precipitation for southern California such as 1977-78, 1982-83 and 1997-98, which were also seasons that ended ongoing drought. In general, California would need about 150 percent of its average precipitation for the rainy season to significantly reduce the drought and raise the low water supply in reservoirs to near normal levels.

Temperature (left) and precipitation (right) outlook for the period  July, August, and September 2014.

Temperature (left) and precipitation (right) outlook for the period
July, August, and September 2014.

Alexander Tardy Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Manager at NOAA/National Weather Service in San Diego, CA and a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.