California and the rest of the Southwest have been experiencing droughts since the nation’s existence. The main difference today is that these droughts occur more frequently, last longer and wet days are scarce. The new dry weather pattern is thought by scientists to be directly related to global warming, and it is only expected to get worse.
Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research have conducted a study which assessed weather patterns in the Southwest from the 1970s to today. The scientists discovered that the precipitation intensity in the Northwest and Midwest has experienced an overall increase in the number of wet days in those regions. In the Southwest, precipitation intensity leads to a decrease in rainy days. In fact, since 1979, precipitation has decreased by 25 percent in the Southwest region of the United States. Lead researcher Andreas Prein recently explained to USA Today that the Southwestern drought is directly related to to climate change.
“This is something we expect from global warming. We see that in observations. It’s happening already. Droughts are occurring there more easily.”
The study by Prein and his associates was not the first to blame global warming for the number of droughts experienced in the Southwest. Prior to his extensive study, Cornell University analyzed California weather patterns and decided that the likeliness that mega-droughts would begin to occur was 50 percent. Then, in 2014, the state of California announced the longest drought they had ever experienced in over 400 years. In response to what seemed like a lifelong status of dry weather, UC Berkley paleoclimatologist Lynn Ingram made a statement at that time to raise awareness on the effects of climate change and global warming as they relate droughts.
“It’s important to be aware of what the climate is capable of, so that we can prepare for it.”
In agreement with the urgency required to properly research ways to deal with the pending presence of droughts and mega-droughts, the NCAR study’s co-researcher, Mari Tye, also made a statement.
“Understanding how changing weather pattern frequencies may impact total precipitation across the U.S. is particularly relevant to water resource managers as they contend with issues such as droughts and floods, and plan future infrastructure to store and disperse water.”
Looking again at the study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, there is a definitive way in which Southwesterners can tell if a drought is coming. The researchers found that precipitation in the Southwest is closely related to low pressure in the North Pacific, just off the Washington state coast. That area usually experiences low pressure in the winter due to the ice that forms. If it’s mid-winter and it still hasn’t rained in California, there is a drought.
The results of the NCAR study revealed something about the climate shift in the Southwest that previous studies did not find. What scientists are saying differently is that instead of droughts becoming a more common occurrence in the future, the future may be now.
Currently in the California, the four year drought is ongoing and it has been reported that over 90 percent of the state holds the status of severe drought conditions. Though the Pacific Institute reports that the severe conditions related to the drought are improving, it is only by a mere 1.6 percent, meaning most of the state still suffers. California is only one of states experiencing a mega-drought. These are the states also in an ongoing drought and the percentage of the state effected by drought conditions:
- Nevada: 86.99 percent
- Oregon: 68.48 percent
- Utah: 34.38 percent
- Arizona: 29.26 percent
- Idaho: 26.19 percent
- Washington: 23.76 percent
- New Mexico: 11.95 percent
In light of no apparent end to the drought in the Southwest, the researchers for NCAR consider their study an important analysis of the condition and prediction of the future weather shift. In agreement, Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe encourages reading the study and applying its methodology to the way future drought research is conducted.
“This study is important as it connects the dots between long-term trends and changes in specific weather patterns that appear to be driving those trends.”
[Photo by George Rose/Getty Images]