Persistent dryness in the West is exacerbating region’s ‘megadrought’
- The Southwest is the area of most concern due to the drought.
- In California, about 90% of the state is in a drought.
- The nearly-20-year drought is almost as bad or worse than any in the past 1,200 years, scientists say.
Much of the western U.S. continues to endure a long-term drought, one that threatens the region’s water supplies and agriculture and could worsen wildfires this year.
In fact, some scientists are calling the dryness in the West a “megadrought,” defined as an intense drought that lasts for decades or longer.
Overall, about 90% of the West is now either abnormally dry or in a drought, which is among the highest percentages in the past 20 years, according to this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor.
“By intensity, it would be about as bad as the U.S. Drought Monitor has shown in the last 20 years,” climatologist Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center told USA TODAY.
Although some areas that saw significant snow this winter will be in better shape this year, “those areas that did not see any help during the winter will see issues and impacts to water supplies, agriculture as well as increased fire danger,” Fuchs said. “We have time yet this winter to provide help, but the current situation is not providing much hope in widespread improvements by the end of spring.”
Drought conditions in Phoenix, Arizona have been nearly the same for a decade and a half. (Photo: maliciousmonkey / Flickr)
The Southwest is the area of most concern because of the drought. “Coming off record-breaking or near-record-breaking heat and dryness in 2020, the winter has not provided much relief at all and we see the most widespread exceptional drought in this region,” he said. Exceptional drought is the worst level of drought.
A bad year: ‘Megadrought’ emerging in the western US might be worse than any in 1,200 years
“I would include Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Colorado as the states with the most concerns going into the summer,” Fuchs said.
In California, about 90% of the state is in a drought, a worrisome statistic that comes a year after its most destructive wildfire season on record.
“Much of California is enduring its second consecutive dry winter, with most areas below 75% of normal snowpack for this time of year,” the Monitor said. “Many water agencies were discussing water conservation measures, with the North Marin Water District considering both voluntary and mandatory water conservation orders.”
Moderate drought was expanded over areas of Southern California. where drought is developing again after a fairly dry winter.
“As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year’s dry conditions,” Karla Nemeth, director of California’s Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.
Sean de Guzman, the department’s chief of snow surveys and water supply forecasting, said California “has experienced a series of storms over the last couple of weeks that brought a significant amount of rain and snow; however, these storms were not nearly enough to make up a deficit that we have accumulated over last few months.”
In a study published last year, scientists said a “megadrought” appears to be emerging in the western U.S., one that’s being worsened by human-caused climate change. In fact, the nearly-20-year drought is almost as bad or worse than any in the past 1,200 years, scientists say.
“By definition, we are approaching what is defined as a megadrought, where conditions have been that way for at least two decades,” Fuchs said.
Historically, megadroughts once plagued the Desert Southwest. Thanks in part to global warming, an especially fierce one appears to be coming back.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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