Written by Vedika Pathania, a first year student
The American West is experiencing a severe drought.
Since the beginning of 2021, over half of the United States has been under a drought. Low rainfall and snowfall, as well as climate change and lingering droughts from prior years, have exacerbated the severe dryness. According to the US Drought Monitor, extreme circumstances are more prevalent than they have been in at least 20 years.
The idea that the warmest months of summer are still to come is alarming. Reservoir levels are at record lows across the area, and the mountain snowpack, which releases water slowly in the spring and summer, is nearly exhausted. Water restrictions are already in place in California, with further cuts on the way. The risk of fire is already growing due to dry soil conditions.
To understand the situation, we must understand why droughts happen.
Contrary to popular belief, droughts don’t happen because of high temperatures, but rather because of moisture levels. It is not necessary that they only happen during summer months. When rainfall is lower than usual, a drought occurs, resulting in a water shortage.
While Western America is well acquainted with droughts during the summer, climate change has exponentially worsened the situation. The states of California and Nevada are especially high risk. According to the United States Drought Monitor, extreme and exceptional droughts are affecting Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.
This is where the concept of climate change comes in.
Climate change, which is caused by humans’ unsustainable use of fossil fuels, excessive and rapid deforestation, and agriculture, has raised air and ocean temperatures, thereby increasing the risk of forest fires, and worsened quality of the air.
Some climate scientists assert that climate change has pushed California into a “mega-drought,” a long-term drought. The drought is wreaking havoc across the West, where demand for water has skyrocketed in recent decades as the population has expanded.
Reservoirs are drying up, farmers are under threats and wildfires are always a massive risk. Experts are also concerned that the present dry and hot weather may have a ‘ripple effect’.
The drought is expected to persist into the summer, according to meteorologists. Over the next three months, they predict sustained hot and dry weather across the West. However, even if the West receives more rain in late 2021 and early 2022, the respite may only be short for much of the region. A warmer spring and summer next year may quickly deplete the snowpack, streams, and reservoirs, as well as dry up the land, bringing drought back.
Climate change is not going away in the near future. As a result, severe droughts are unlikely to disappear very soon. However, the severity of this year’s dry season is alarming experts, demonstrating that the country is unprepared for what lies ahead. This also reflects on how climate change is and can affect the rest of the planet if conscious efforts aren’t taken against it. If things aren’t improved, droughts will be the least of our worries.
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