According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Drought Task Force, the ongoing drought in the U.S. Southwest has been the worst since records began in 1895.
According to the report, the 20-month period from January 2020 to August 2021 saw the lowest total precipitation, and the third highest daily average temperature ever recorded in Southwest (which includes Arizona, California Nevada, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah). This led to an "unyielding and unprecedented" crisis.
The drought is the culmination of a two-decade-long decline in precipitation in Southwest. This period was "presumably natural" but human-induced climate change has increased the severity of the drought by driving up the average temperature to dangerous highs, according to the report. Low precipitation and high temperatures combined led to a severe and prolonged drought.
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The report concluded that the drought will likely last until 2022 based on fall rainfall predictions. However, droughts could last much longer if there is low regional precipitation. Researchers said that even though rainfall will increase over the next years, man-made changes in climate could still increase the risk of wildfires and extreme heat, increasing the severity and likelihood of future droughts.
The team stated that the warm temperatures that contributed to this drought's intensity and widespreadity will continue (and grow) until climate mitigation measures are taken and regional warming trends are reversed. "While 202021 was a remarkable period of low precipitation," the team wrote in their report. "The drought that has emerged is an indicator of a future the U.S. Southwest should take steps to manage."
The report stated that the drought will continue to cause severe damage to the Southwest's 60 million residents and the many millions of people who depend on services and goods from the region.
According to the report, "Economic losses due to the drought in 2020 are between $515 million-$1.3 billion alone, not including losses from wildfires." Add wildfires to the equation and the crisis's costs can rise to $11.4 billion to $23 billion in six states for one year.
Original publication on Live Science