North America, Weather/Climate

Megadrought in the American Southwest worst in 12 centuries, study finds

The megadrought in the American Southwest has become so severe that it’s now the driest two decades in the region in at least 1,200 years, scientists said Monday, and climate change is largely responsible.

As Henry Fountain reports for The New York Times, the drought, which began in 2000 and has reduced water supplies, devastated farmers and ranchers and helped fuel wildfires across the region, had previously been considered the worst in 500 years, according to the researchers.

But exceptional conditions in the summer of 2021, when about two-thirds of the West was in extreme drought, “really pushed it over the top,” said A. Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who led an analysis using tree ring data to gauge drought. As a result, 2000-2021 is the driest 22-year period since 800 A.D., which is as far back as the data goes.

The analysis also showed that human-caused warming played a major role in making the current drought so extreme.

There would have been a drought regardless of climate change, Dr. Williams said. “But its severity would have been only about 60 percent of what it was.”

Source: The New York Times. Full story here
Photo: Water levels at the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, have dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via The New York Times

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