'Megadrought' predicted for Southwest

New study predicts 35 year drought for Southwest U.S.

September 2, 2014

A new study by The University of Arizona, Cornell University and the U.S. Geological Survey says the chances if a “megadrought” that runs 35 years or more ranges from 30 to 40 percent over the next century in the Grand Canyon State.

Arizona State University expert Randy Cerveny said the region been in a megadrought before—the last happening about 400 years ago.

Much of the Southwest United States, the next century could feature a drought that lasts sever decades—or what climate scientists call a megadrought, on that lasts 35 years. By comparison, the Dust Bowl, which decimated farms in the 1930s. lasted less than 3ight years.

An “extreme” drought is already affecting 82% of California, researchers say, and 58% is facing even worse “exceptional” drought—but perhaps the most worrying news deals with the possibility of a 30-years “megadrought”. The odds of that occurring now range from 20% to50% in the next 100 years, the study finds. Such droughts may be “worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years.” Experts say, per the Los Angeles Times.

The probabilities are based on new climate change models developed by researcher Toby Ault. Ault, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Cornell, augmented current models with paleoclimate and instrumental data. His efforts were assisted by scientists from Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The impacts of a megadrought would be far worse now because tens of millions of people now call the Southwest home.

“Places like Los Angeles are taking a lot more water out of Lake mead than they used to,” Arizona State University climatologist Randy Cerveny said. “Lake Mead is not only responding to drought, but demand.”

The northwestern Arizona-southeastern Nevada lake is currently at its lowest level since Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s.

The California drought is likely to cost the state $2 billion by the end of the year. The severe drought that overtook the nation in 2012 was also disastrous, causing an estimated $30 billion across 22 states. So preparing for future impacts is of utmost importance, a challenge Ault thinks water managers are up for.

“I do feel a sense of optimism in the sense that this is a natural hazard in the Southwest—and it appears to be a very important one under climate change—but because we know this and because we’re a very adaptive and sophisticated species, I’m confident we can find ways of managing that risk and even thriving,” he said.

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