Even with the wettest April on record, some areas of England are still facing “exceptional” drought conditions. After two years of dry winters — including the fifth-driest March — the ground hasn’t been able to soak up the heavy rainfall that hit in April.
The situation in the country illustrates the cruel reality of “rollercoaster” extreme weather — a problem that will only be exacerbated by accumulating heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Recent research also finds that the loss of Arctic ice favors extreme, prolonged weather events “such as drought, flooding, cold spells and heat waves.”
The rain has certainly helped some regions. But other parts of England were so dry, it could take months of record rainfall to bring groundwater levels back to normal. One aquifer close to London is 90 percent below normal levels for this time of year.
Experts in the country are explaining why the combination of extremely dry and extremely wet conditions make it harder to recover from drought. Climatewire reported on the problem:
“Heavy rain on parched ground is like pouring water on an old, dry sponge. Much of it will bounce off. The sponge needs to be wet in order to hold the water. Farmers are in a much better position than they were thanks to the rains. River levels have risen, soil moisture has increased and their water reserves have been replenished. But aquifers take much longer to fill,” said a spokeswoman for England’s Environment Agency.
According to figures from the Environment Agency, 42 percent of groundwater “indicator sites” are “exceptionally low.”
“Over the last two winters, the amount of rainfall we have had has been down 20 to 30 percent on what we would normally have. Most of the recharge of groundwater happens over the winter. We lost three to four months of groundwater recharge in total over that two-year period,” [explained Andrew McKenzie of the British Geological Survey McKenzie to Climatewire.]
“We have now had the wettest April ever, and you might think that would go halfway to recharging the groundwater. But we also had a very dry March, and the soils had already switched to summer, dry mode and had to switch back,” he added.
Ironically, when the rains hit in April after a dry March, the Environment Agency issued 13 severe flood warnings and 42 flood alerts for areas around the country — all while homeowners were banned from watering their gardens.
This will eventually be normal weather under a business as usual emissions scenario.
According to a study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, our current rate of emissions puts us on a path to dust bowl conditions in many areas of the world, while “precipitation may become more intense but less frequent (i.e., longer dry spells) under GHG-induced global warming. This may increase flash floods and runoff, but diminish soil moisture and increase the risk of agricultural drought.”
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