As published in USA Today, By Dolye Rice, March 4, 2021

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.”

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.

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.”

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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