California has declared an emergency with 90% of America's most populous state now suffering severe drought, following its driest year since records began 119 years ago.
Governor Jerry Brown has called on all citizens to reduce voluntarily their use of water by 20% as farmers find themselves unable to water their cattle, ski resorts remain parched and meteorologists warn of a "giant fire year" ahead with no rain on the horizon.
While much of the rest of the US was hit by a polar vortex earlier this month, which brought bitter cold and snow, California continued to bake - leaving reservoirs and rivers depleted. The Sierra Nevada snow pack, from which much of the state's water ultimately originates, is now at 17% of its normal January level. The Golden State, as one climatologist put it, "is as dry as a box of popcorn in the desert".
Mr Brown said: "We're facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago. It's important to wake all Californians to the serious matter of the drought and lack of rain.
"We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation. We ought to be ready for a long, continued, persistent effort to restrain our water use. This is not a partisan adversary. This is Mother Nature. This is an effort to call for arms."
In Sacramento, the state capital, half a million people have already been ordered to reduce water use by 30% after the reservoir at nearby Folsom Lake fell to 18% of capacity. As the water disappeared the remnants of a long submerged Gold Rush town were revealed, attracting curious amateur archaeologists.
Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged people to ask God to send rain. In a prayer he said: "May God open the heavens and let his mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains. Our reliance on water reveals how much we are part of creation, and creation is a part of us." Salatul Istisqa, the traditional Muslim prayer for rain, is also being offered at mosques in the Central Valley, California's scorched agricultural heartland.
The population of California has nearly doubled from 20 million to 38 million since the 1970s, increasing pressure on its water resources. It also produces nearly half of America's fruit and vegetables, meaning the drought could have dire consequences for the rest of the country.
According to local reports 200,000 acres of prime farmland may remain unplanted this year near the agricultural town of Fresno. Kevin Kester, 58, a cattle farmer in central California, said: "I am a fifth generation cattle rancher and it has never been this bad ever in my lifetime. Right now we're just trying to figure out how we're going to survive."
With ski slopes bare, major resorts have invested millions of dollars in snow-making machines. At Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Kirkwood and Mammoth, which are usually blanketed naturally in December, almost all of the snow has been made by machines. Smaller resorts without machines remain closed. "If it wasn't for snow making we probably wouldn't be open," the head snow maker at Heavenly told the San Jose Mercury.
At Mammoth, there were reports of bears coming out of hibernation three months early. Yosemite National Park, normally the reserve of cross country skiers and snow-shoers in January, is instead offering horseback and mountain bike tours. The park is encouraging tourists to enjoy "Juneuary in Yosemite".
At the weekend, hundreds of people had to be evacuated from a suburb of Los Angeles as 800 firemen tackled a wildfire burning out of control. Meteorologists have blamed the drought on a large zone of high pressure off the Pacific coast which has been stopping storms hitting California for more than a year, pushing them north towards Canada.