In the US, the air will be drier and hotter

climate change, dehydration, water crisis, US, Texas, Mexico

The red area is 0 – 4% of normal rain precipitation

Reinforced by global warming, the west and center of the United States will possibly be extremely dry for decades. 

Large parts of the US will be facing the worst drought in a thousand years, the second half of this century.

The ‘mega-droughts’ can persist for decades, predict US researchers from NASA and the universities of Cornell and Columbia.

The American Southwest and the Central Plains are already suffering from unusual drought for several years. What lies ahead after 2050 is much more serious, according to the researchers.

They compared climate models in future decades with data over periods of extreme heat and drought in the Middle Ages.

“The mega-droughts of the 12th and 13th centuries lasted for 40, 50 or 60 years. This drought will even get worse – long and bad,” says Benjamin Cook, scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “The difference with previous droughts, is that future drought will be enhanced by global warming.

water crisis, agri, cow, dehydration, worst drought, greenhouse gas, US

A cow looks for blades of green grass in the bottom of an empty stock tank at a ranch near Manor

Profound consequences

According to the researchers, the probability is more than 80 percent that large parts of the west and center of the US are faced a drought of 35 years or more. The threatened area are states like California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In this states, water will become even scarcer than it is already. With profound consequences for nature, agriculture and people.

Climate models

Cook and his colleagues, reconstructed climatic conditions on annual tree rings. They have combined historical information with seventeen climate models and data of groundwater, precipitation and evaporation. They analyzed the impact of rising temperatures and changing precipitation and published their study in Science Advances.

They researched with two scenarios:

  1. greenhouse gas emissions will be increasing
  2. the emissions will be moderate

In both cases, after 2050 the regions will suffer from less rain, more evaporation and the soil will be drying. Results: the air is getting drier and hotter.

Warning

This study is a warning! We have to think in different scenario’s: If this is going to happen, what do we do? How do we deal with this drought? The results of the study are clear.

Even if we are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially, it will take a long period before this will lead to a climate improvement.

We are at a record low and we expect to drop even lower in the summer months.

56% of normal snowpack

We all are depending on the snow pack on the Rockies and Lake Powell is the first reservoir,” said Rose Davis of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado region. “It doesn’t look very good. We have 56% of normal snowpack is the last reading that I saw. It’s just terrible.”

The fall in water levels in Lake Mead are as dramatic as those in Lake Powell. It has dropped from over 90% of capacity in 2000 to less than 40%. In April, the water in Lake Mead fell to its lowest level since 1937 when it was still being filled after construction of the Hoover dam.

Measures

  • Nevada is recycling most of the water used by residents and tourists in Las Vegas. The Southern Nevada Water Authority put in place a conservation plan that includes limiting the size of lawns, restrictions on watering gardens and campaigns to shorten the time spent in showers or running dishwashers.The authority says it has reduced demand from about 314 gallons per person per day in 2002 to about 205 gallons per day last year, and saved 32bn gallons of water despite the region’s population rising by more than 500,000 people.
  • California has been implementing a raft of measures, with new laws to come, to deal with a water crisis across the state beyond areas dependent on the Colorado river.
  • Arizona has cut back water usage to levels last seen in the 1950s. If it comes to it, the state has had to set its own priorities. The cities will get first call over the farmers of central Arizona.
  • Arizona also stashed surplus water in the years of plenty in underground water banks which should provide it with about two years of reserves, although it is a major operation to extract it.

But all of that looks a relative sticking plaster next to the predictions made by some environmental studies that the Colorado river’s flow is permanently diminished. Some predict the volume of water coming off the Rocky mountains will fall by a further third by 2050.

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