The United States, particularly the Southwest, has not experienced a drought as severe as it is currently experiencing for about 1,200 years. Any drought that lasts more than 20 years is considered a mega-drought. The American West is entering 23 years of devastating drought, and by most measures the situation is getting worse. Experts say these conditions could last until 2030.
Between 2000 and 2021, temperatures in the West were, on average, 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the previous 50 years. As a result, approximately 75% of all land in the nine westernmost states of the continental United States faces drought conditions; 35% of the land in these states is cooking in drought conditions classified as extreme or exceptional. And while the situation is worse in the West, more than 80% of the United States faces abnormally dry conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor.
Major systems essential to daily life and economic stability in the West are under threat. The flow of the Colorado River, a lifeline for 40 million people in the upper and lower basins, has dropped 20% since the mega-drought began. Reservoirs along the river, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are central to agricultural operations and utilities, and they dry up at certain times of the year at a rate of 1 foot per week.
A 2022 UCLA study found that human-caused climate change caused a 42% reduction in soil moisture, which is one of the most severe consequences of drought. As temperatures rise, moisture is sapped from the soil, leaving behind poor quality or unusable farmland. Seasonal snowmelt, which helps extinguish dry land, occurs earlier and faster and cannot adequately replenish moisture. Reductions in humidity in vegetation also lead to an increased risk of wildfires, turning entire landscapes into powder kegs.
Droughts are expected to occur regularly in the future. To better understand what our future might look like and how we might be better prepared, Stacker cited data from the US Drought Monitor, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and California Department of Water Resources to visualize the current mega-drought in the West and its consequences. impact on the region.
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