Study: West will likely face 'megadrought' within next century

08/26/2014 10:48:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

click image to zoomFolsom LakeCourtesy U.S. Geological SurveyWith a capacity slightly less than 1 million acre-feet, Folsom Lake just east of Sacramento, Calif., is one of the smaller reservoirs within the Central Valley Project.Just when you though the drought in the Southwest couldn't get much worse a joint university study predicts a "megadrought" within the next century.

The study, conducted by Cornell University, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey, predicts a dry spell "worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years," according to a news release.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the study, said in the release. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this—we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

As of Aug. 12, most of California is in an "exceptional drought," the most severe category.

Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas are in the "moderate drought" category.

But with ongoing climate change, the researchers say the current drought is a climpse of things to come.

They point to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s as a megadrought, although these uber-dry spells can last more than three decades.

The researchers also use as examples the recent "Big Dry" in Australia and the drought in the sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers say the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with the looming prolonged drought scenario.

On the other hand, computer models predict a decreasing chance or drought in northwestern states, including Washington, Montana and Idaho.

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