Southwest Drought Is Worst on Record

Climate change has made it more severe, report says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2021 6:05 PM CDT
Southwest Drought Is Worst on Record
The Carson River flows out of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, toward Lake Lahonton, last month near Gardnerville, Nev. The water levels are severely low.   (Richard Bednarski/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

(Newser) – Not only is the drought in the southwestern US the worst on record, it's not over yet, say researchers who leave no doubt the severity is connected to climate change. A team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and independent researchers found the 20-month period from January 2020 to last month was the third-warmest such stretch on record, as well as the driest. Records have been kept since 1895, per Axios. Droughts' effects can build and compound each other, worsening the damage. The researchers found that happening this time. Their report addressed:

The roots. Two straight dry winters kept total precipitation to the record low for the Southwest, aided by a failed 2020 summer monsoon, per the Washington Post. Six states covered by the report—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—posted temperatures that were the third highest ever recorded. Those two factors worked together to shrink the snowpack and increase soil evaporation, bringing drought to most of the West.
Water worries. The federal declaration of Lake Mead's shortage led to less water from the Colorado River being allocated to Arizona, as well as other states; 40 million people count on the Colorado's water.
Power problems. As electricity demand rose during the heat waves to run air conditioners, low reservoir levels throughout the region contributed to power blackouts.
Climate change. Although the first drop in precipitation probably was random, the high temperatures can't be explained by normal fluctuations. Computer models and analysis show greenhouse gas emissions have caused the atmosphere to need more moisture from the planet. The backdrop is the first megadrought, which began in 2000, caused by climate change, a co-author said.
The prognosis. Conditions will stay dry and warm at least into next year, researchers say. One wet season won't fix much; reservoirs and rivers in the Southwest need several years of high precipitation to end the drought. Moreover, the Southwest is headed toward a more arid future unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut, researchers say. (Read more drought stories.)

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