Data: Andrew Hoell and Justin Mankin, NOAA Drought Task Force Report on the 2020-2021 SW U.S. Drought; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios
In a stark new report, a team of NOAA and independent researchers found the 2020-2021 drought across the Southwest is the worst in the instrumental record, which dates to 1895.
Why it matters: They also concluded that global warming is making it far more severe, primarily by increasing average temperatures, which boosts evaporation.
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State of play: The Southwest is facing historic water woes, with the first-ever federal water shortage declaration at Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir by surface volume.
This triggered cutbacks in Colorado River water allocations to Arizona and other states, a waterway that 40 million people rely on for irrigation and drinking water.
A dangerous wildfire scenario continues to play out, especially in California, where the Dixie Fire is now the state's second-largest on record, approaching the rare category of a "gigafire," by charring at least 1 million acres.
The report found that the 20-month period from January 2020 to August 2021 was the driest such period on record, as well as the third-warmest.
Threat level: The study ties the heat directly to climate change, and warns the severity of such drought events is sure to worsen barring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Higher temperatures cause spring snowpack to disappear early and accelerates the drying of soils.
The big picture: The drought is occurring in the context of the first climate change-induced "megadrought," which research shows began in 2000 and is exceptional on millennial timescales, study co-author Justin S. Mankin of Dartmouth University, told Axios.
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