Researchers confirm that a megadrought is a “naturally occurring event” which began in 2000 and is still underway. Climate change has impacted the rising temperatures, and is making the drought even worse. What’s worse, researchers now believe that the severity of this drought may be equivalent to super-droughts which have not been witnessed in over 1,000 years.
What is a megadrought? According to authors of recent research confirm that a megadrought, in North America, “refers to a multi-decade event, that contains periods of very high severity that last longer than anything observed during the 19th or 20th centuries.” Evidence in this report taken from soil moisture data confirms that in U.S. history, only 4 out of 40 droughts meet criteria for a megadrought.
The study also confirmed that even of the worst of these droughts in history, the past soil moisture records from 2000-2018 have already indicated that the current period is worse than 3 of the 4 other megadroughts on record. Plainly put, these naturally occurring events are now being exacerbated by climate change, making them both longer in duration and of higher severity.
Though research is still in relatively infantile stages, impacts of the megadrought can already be observed through the shrinking of two reservoirs in the US’s western region: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Additionally, wildfires have increased exponentially in the area. Though scientists are not ready to declare a megadrought, that is ultimately what the future holds in only a short matter of time. As scientist Dr. Angelina Pendergrass with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research confirms, “Whether or not the western U.S. has crossed a threshold into an event that goes by any specific label, what’s been clear this century is that water is an essential resource in the western U.S., and it’s a precarious one, because the region can have long spells with little precipitation.”
Sources: BBC News 04/16/2020; BBC News 02/13/2015