Hurricanes and tornadoes get a lot of attention and rightfully so. They can be significant stressors on our socio-economic fabric in the United States. They are also more episodic and “buzzworthy” events than drought, which tends to be rather creeping and sustained. Drought rarely receives immediate live reporter coverage and social media hashtags like a severe weather or hurricane threat. Yet, it is a significant stressor on society as well. The current drought in the U.S. West is approaching historic levels, and you probably didn’t even know it.
In a report issued by the NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) in mid-April, the agency noted that, “The current multi-year drought across the West is the most extensive and intense drought in the 22-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.” For the first three months of the year (2022), precipitation deficits were nearing or at record levels. Victor Murphy is a Climate Services Manager for the National Weather Service. On April 16th, he tweeted the image below and said, “19 west TX counties from Pecos in the south to Crosby in the north have seen their driest September-March time period on record, dating back to 1895.” By the way, The Dust Bowl was after 1895.
NOAA goes on to point out that, “As the climatological wet season ends across portions of the West, with below average snow cover and reservoirs at or near record-low levels, concerns for expanding and intensifying drought and water resource deficits are mounting.” In a nutshell, the critical time to replenish western water supply is passing, and there are signs that the drought will continue to intensify. So what?
The implications of a dry western U.S. are numerous. Some of the countries most populated urban regions are in the region and rely on an already scarce water supply. Much of the countries agricultural productivity comes from the Central Valley of California and the Great Plains. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, the Ogallala Aquifer, under an eight state region of the Great Plains, is responsible for, “Nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States.” Geological action created the water reservoir over the past 1 million years, but we are using the water at unsustainable rates.
Another implication of a drought plagued West is wildfires. A recent Desert News headline read, “California, Utah and other Western states face scary wildfire season.” According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 19,226 wildfires have burned in the United States since January 1st while scorching 820,587 acres. This is above the 10-year average according to NIFC. The recently released April to July Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook appears ominous too.
As we move into summer, keep a close eye on the western drought. We all buy products in our markets that are grown or raised in the Western U.S. Yes, drought matters to you too.