Though the images of barren mountain ranges normally covered in snow are startling, "from a hydrological and water supply perspective, the state is just now tipping into drought," observes Bettina Boxall. "Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet issued an official drought proclamation but said Monday that he soon will. 'It's really serious,' Brown said, noting that 2014 could be California's third dry year in a row. 'In many ways it's a mega-drought.'"
The seriousness of the situation, however, is spread unevenly across the state. Southern California and San Francisco should be able to ride out the drought without resorting to rationing for quite some time. "The story will be different for ranchers, communities that depend on local surface supplies and many San Joaquin Valley growers, particularly on the valley's south and west sides," notes Boxall. Sacramento approved mandatory rationing this week.
For an explanation of the unusual scientific phenomenon that's keeping the rain away (one researcher dubbed it the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge"), see this article in the San Jose Mercury News. And for tips on how to reduce water demand and augment supply, Laura Tam has assembled a terrific list of tools for SPUR.
UPDATE (1/17/14): Governor Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency for the state this morning, report Josh Richman and Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury News. "The governor asked California residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. In practical terms, the drought declaration also streamlines the rules for water agencies to transfer extra water from one part of the state to another, easing shortages. It also raises public awareness."