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Drought conditions worsen in western U.S. as climate warms

Image of Colorado River near Hoover Dam taken in June 2019. Note the "bathtub ring" around the river's edge
Image of Colorado River near Hoover Dam taken in June 2019. Note the "bathtub ring" around the river's edge

The wet season in the West is beginning to wind down, however, widespread extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought continues across much of the Southwestern states, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

A lack of monsoonal rains last summer and spotty snowfall this past winter have combined to make the drought conditions worse, and the spring snowmelt won’t help very much. The April 1 measurements of accumulated snowpack across the region show that most streams and rivers will be flowing at below normal levels this year.

It is expected that these circumstances will put added stress on ecosystems, farms, and water supplies. Key reservoirs are already at dangerously low levels. And of course, there is always the wildfire threat. Last year, California and Colorado experienced their worst fire seasons on record, with drought conditions spanning about half of the West.


U.S. Drought Monitor

However, this year, about 90 percent of the West is in drought conditions, with 40 percent in those two most severe categories – either severe drought or extreme drought. Actually, according to USA Today, some scientists are calling the dryness in the West a “megadrought,” defined as an intense drought that lasts for decades or longer.

“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.

While some areas did see significant snow this winter, “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.”

“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.

“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.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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