Climate change is playing a key role in these compounding crises: Drought and extreme heat are fueling wildfires; reduced snowpack and the lack of substantial precipitation are exacerbating water demands for millions of people, as well as agriculture, ecosystems and deteriorating infrastructure.
More than 94% of the West is in drought, the largest area on record. More than 60% of the region is in 'extreme' or 'exceptional' drought — the two most severe categories — expanding by 35,000 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Indiana.
There are six states completely in drought conditions; California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and North Dakota.
For the second week in a row, conditions deteriorated in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon's current conditions are among the driest since the late 1800s, according to the US Drought Monitor. In Washington, "rangeland and pasture conditions are far worse this year when compared to all other years this century," it reported.
The National Weather Service noted
it's the first time the state of Washington has been in exceptional drought since the Drought Monitor began in 2000.
The Big Lost River in Idaho "is almost out of storage," the Drought Monitor reported last week, and there is "significant agricultural impacts to the state, including crop loss, a lack of forage, and animal deaths."
Conditions improved somewhat in the Southwest, namely in New Mexico, thanks to enhanced rainfall from the Southwest monsoon.
As the planet warms, drought and extreme heat will also fuel deadly wildfires. Multiple studies have linked rising carbon dioxide emissions and high temperatures to increased acreage of burning across the West, particularly in California.
The West experienced extremely low rain and snowfall over the past year, compounded by drastically high temperatures. Less rain and increasing heat waves have led directly to drought conditions and water shortages.
The Southwest monsoon, which began in mid-July, is expected to lead to some relief in that region. The Drought Monitor reports recent rain "has resulted in drastic improvements in recent weeks" in New Mexico. In some cases, the agency reports, "moisture has seeped several feet into the soils."
As climate change accelerates and winter temperatures increase, snowfall will decrease. High-elevation snowpack serves as a natural reservoir that eases drought, storing water through the winter months and slowly releasing it through the spring melting season.
This article is absolutely terrifying. We knew- being native Californians- we are in the depths of a historic drought that is percipitated by climate change- but did not know to what extent we are suffering. We absolutely are stunned at the drough conditions and lack of water at our reservoirs. The thing that is even more frightening is the fact that without water- the threat of wildfires- arguably one of the most terrifying climate disasters-will skyrocket. We also know that with the drought- crop yields and things like almond farmers (for almond milk etc) will be deeply effected. This is not good and we need to do something about this ASAP!