Droughts, Wildfires vs. Hurricanes, Floods
Mother Nature is flexing her muscles all at once in response to decades of carbon pollution in the atmosphere. The United States is a good example. The nation is being punished by droughts in the West, while the Southern and East Coast are suffering a constant deluge. People are raising their voices for climate action after decades of denial and disinformation. Unfortunately, we are in defense mode. Most scientists concur that if we stopped all carbon emissions today, global warming and climate change will continue to accelerate. It’s time to pull out every tool in the box, but resilience is now priority one. safe food and water supplies for an overpopulated planet will continue to dwindle.
The problems in the American West are not unique. Rising populations and declining water supplies, in the face of record heat and record drought are proving to be an existential threat. The Dust Bowl a century ago drove millions out of the Midwest. That drought pales in comparison to the mega-drought scorching the American West today. According to most scientists, the situation isn’t likely to improve.
The past year has been the driest or second driest in most Southwestern states since record keeping began in 1895. Almost 75 percent of the American West is experiencing severe drought, which puts more than 57 million people in harm’s way. While the West has long experienced boom and bust cycles of precipitation, climate change is increasing the volatility and intensity of these cycles.
While drought and dry weather occur and vary naturally in the region, the increasing temperatures pushing the American West over the edge are human in origin. Some scientists suggest that the word drought is no longer accurate, because it implies that the water shortages may end. According to their analysis, the added heat and winds from climate change supercharged the drying process, making the current drought the second worst in the last 1,200 years. The Colorado and Rio Grande rivers are trickling compared to their long-term averages.
Thanks to global warming and climate change, we can’t rely on the past to predict the future.
Human-caused climate change, in tandem with human reshaping of the natural hydrological systems—by damming rivers, growing vast fields of crops, and more—have shifted the baseline conditions so thoroughly that there is no way to return to what used to be considered normal. Farms and cities have begun imposing water restrictions.
Today’s catastrophic conditions are influenced by many factors, including a La Niña that began last fall. A La Niña makes it more likely that Pacific storm systems curve northward toward the Pacific Northwest and Canada rather than California and the Southwest.
“It’s incredible, how much of the West is in extreme or exceptional drought right now, including much of the Colorado and Rio Grande basins, the two lifelines of the Southwest,” said Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project.
Summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere are now higher than they have been in the last 1,200 years. Climate change has bumped up average air temperatures 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the region in just the past 100 years, which evaporates more water from streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, plants and soil.
Read the full story about the worst drought to hit the American West in centuries.