Pacific Northwest ‘mega-drought’ set to worsen

According to US Drought Watch (USDM), nearly 55% of the western United States and 75% of the Pacific Northwest are currently experiencing drought conditions. Climate experts predict that drought conditions will be even worse this summer than they have been for the past two years. As a result, central Oregon could experience wildfires as early as May.

Extreme drought is a normal part of the annual climate cycle, but losses from drought can equal those from hurricanes and tornadoes. The drought affects all sectors, including agriculture, water supply, energy production and public health.

The USDM uses a variety of digital inputs to determine the location and severity of drought nationwide. Inputs include the Palmer Drought Severity Index, Standardized Precipitation Index, Keech-Byram Drought Index, and Surface Water Supply Index, among others. The Monitor does not forecast a drought; instead, it assesses drought conditions on a weekly basis.

Several federal organizations in the United States control drought policy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Drought Information System monitors drought conditions, the US Geological Survey and NASA collect and distribute data, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measures water quality and the United States Department of Agriculture manages drought response. efforts.

Eric Wise of the North West Interagency Coordination Center says he and his team “are concerned that things will start up again early this year and persist thereafter.”

Britt Parker of the National Integrated Drought Information System explains that “many of these most drought-affected areas would need 150 to 200 percent or more of normal rainfall over the next two months to improve drought conditions,” but that’s unlikely, as the impacts of the drought are increasing year by year. In fact, as Oregon State University climatologist Larry O’Neill explains, Oregon experienced its third driest period on record since 1895 between October 2019 and September 2021.

O’Neill says that “this year we’re actually starting drier than we did at this point last year, and so right now we’re very worried about this area of ​​Oregon.”

Additionally, nearly all tanks in the state are significantly lower than they were this time last year; some fell by almost a third. This could have major consequences for farmers and ranchers.

Park Williams, a climate hydrologist at UCLA who recently conducted a study of the record-breaking severity of the current mega-drought, used a common method to determine if extreme weather is the result of climate change: He created a hypothetical world with no warming caused by people and compared it to what is happening right now. Williams determined that 42% of mega-drought conditions are the direct result of human-caused climate change. Without the consequences of human behavior, Williams believes the drought would have ended before 2006.

Williams says this mega-drought will eventually end once we see a few rainy years. But the mega-droughts themselves will persist and only get worse as the planet continues to warm.

By Grace Miller

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