Our worst-case climate change nightmares are coming true, demonstrated by the megadrought in the American West, according to a new study. Thanks to a super dry 2021, the current 22-year drought has stolen the gold medal from the previous champ in the late 1500s. And there’s not much rain in the long-term forecast.
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, put 42% of the blame on humans.
“Climate change is changing the baseline conditions toward a drier, gradually drier state in the west and that means the worst-case scenario keeps getting worse,” said study lead author Park Williams, a climate hydrologist at UCLA, as reported by HuffPost. “This is right in line with what people were thinking of in the 1900s as a worst-case scenario. But today I think we need to be even preparing for conditions in the future that are far worse than this.”
The study analyzed soil moisture levels in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, most of Idaho and Oregon, some of New Mexico, Colorado and northern Mexico and southwestern Montana and Texas. His estimates used both tree rings and more modern measurements. It even goes all the way back to the year 800. The current drought really got going in 2002, one of the driest years to date. Now, 55% of the American West is in drought.
The drought’s persistence surprised Williams. A few years ago, he predicted the drought would end by 2019. Nope.
“For this drought to have just cranked up back to maximum drought intensity in late 2020 through 2021 is a quite emphatic statement by this 2000s drought saying that we’re nowhere close to the end,” Williams said.
The Western U.S. drought now rates 5% drier than the previous 1500s record setter.
To figure out how much of the drought is driven by human-caused climate change, Williams created hypothetical worlds through different models. If humans hadn’t been up to our usual fossil fuel-burning shenanigans, Williams thinks the current megadrought would have ended in 2005 or 2006.
Lead image via Pexels