Amazingly, the epic drought in California actually worsened this week, setting up “unprecedented” fire conditions and even spawning a fire tornado. At the same time, the drought in Texas may become the third worst in the last 500 years (!). Both states face even worse droughts in the future thanks to climate change.
Every week, the U.S. Drought Monitor updates drought conditions in every state. Here is the latest map for California:
A remarkable 100 percent of the state is experiencing “severe drought” (or worse) — which is a “Dust Bowl” level of soil moisture. Virtually the entire breadbasket of California is in extreme to exceptional drought.
The drought is expected to raise prices of fruits and vegetables, including avocados and lettuce — as much as 34 percent.
As Climate Progress reported Thursday, more than 20,000 residents fled their homes from fires in Southern California this week.
The extreme drought and heat have depleted reservoirs and even aquifers, increasing the state’s chance of earthquakes, as a new Nature study found. And that’s not the only side effect of current extreme conditions.
We’ve also seen more than one firenado, a “spinning column of burning debris and gas … packing winds as strong as 120 mph.”:
The degree of fire activity around the state in 2014 has been “unprecedented,” according to Ken Pimlott, Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter says the conditions have been so bad for so long, “We have never gone out of what you would call fire season.”
Natural variability alone cannot explain the extreme weather pattern that has driven the record-setting California drought, a major study concluded last month. That study directly linked climate change to the blocking pattern steering precipitation away from California. Indeed, climate scientists predicted a decade ago that warming-driven Arctic ice loss would lead to a blocking pattern that would worsen drought in the state.
Large parts of the Southwest and southern plains have been in almost as bad a shape as the Golden State:
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon described the severity of the Texas drought this week:
The current drought, which started four years ago, is among the five worst in the past 500 years, he said. If it continues to be as dry as it is has been, the drought could be the third worst.
A major 2012 study found that extreme heat waves in Texas, like the one that occurred in 2011, are much more likely — 20 times more likely in years like 2011 — to occur than they were 40 to 50 years ago.
Global warming directly makes droughts more intense by drying out and heating up land that is suffering from reduced precipitation. Climate change also shifts precipitation patterns, causing semi-arid-regions, like the southwest, to become parched. The 2012 Texas study found “indications of an increase in frequency of low seasonal precipitation totals.”
Nielsen-Gammon was asked whether record-breaking droughts would become the “new normal” for South Texas. He said that because of climate change, South Texas “could see both worse droughts and worse floods” in the long term.
The recently released National Climate Assessment projected a serious decline in soil moisture over large parts of Texas in the coming decades. And a growing fraction of the precipitation that does fall will be in more intense deluges that do little to alleviate droughts, but do spawn monster floods.