According to new data, half of the country has recently been under drought conditions of some kind. Experts now claim it’s partly due to human-caused climate change.
From October 12 to October 18, 49.7 percent of the country and 59.4 percent of the lower 48 states were amid drought conditions. According to the U.S. National Integrated Drought Information System, this phenomenon affected nearly 135 million people as of October 27.
However, droughts are not unusual in some areas of the U.S. Yet, the current weather conditions are record-breaking for most.
The southwestern part of the country has been experiencing a “megadrought” for over 22 years, and many believe it’s the most severe one in 1,200 years.
This coming winter, these dry conditions may continue in the south due to the La Niña weather pattern. During this phenomenon, Pacific Ocean surface temperatures periodically cool down. Typically, this pattern occurs once every three to five years. However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in 2022, La Niña will happen for the third consecutive year.
Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said on October 20 that “parts of the Western U.S and southern Great Plains will continue to be the hardest hit [by drought] this winter.”
La Niña likely to contribute to ongoing drought conditions
In October, the continuing dry conditions caused record water-level lows in places surrounding the Mississippi River. It shockingly receded to minus-10.75 feet in Memphis, Tennessee. According to National Weather Service data, this is the lowest ever recorded in the city.
In addition, water levels in Nevada’s Lake Mead—the country’s largest artificial reservoir that supplies water to around 25 million people across several states— fell so low that authorities have found six sets of human remains.
Mathew Barlow, professor of climate science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said, “Over the winter, the naturally occurring La Niña appears likely to prolong the drought in the Southwest through the southern plains. And the warmer temperatures associated with global warming will continue to stack the odds toward drought over much of that region as well.
“The impact of La Nina is unlikely to last beyond the winter but the global warming influence will continue and will continue to increase as long as we continue to burn fossil fuels. That is, the western U.S. is moving toward drier conditions overall with climate change, directly tied to the level of emissions.”
He added: “Estimates of the climate change contribution to the drought in the west over the 2000-2021 period range as high as 42 percent, so we’re talking about a very substantial influence for climate change.”
One way of looking at drought data is to use the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), which uses rainfall and temperature figures to study moisture needs.