While the recent extreme heat wave generated intense coverage for a while, the media has largely missed the big climate story of the summer — the nationwide drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor paints a sobering picture, with the browns and reds showing the severest areas of drought:
Here is how Rich Tinker of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center describes the alarming situation:
Overview: Abnormal dryness and all drought intensities remained unusually expansive for the nation as a whole, leading to a variety of impacts. More than 5.9 million acres have been scorched by wildfires so far this year, which is 70 percent more than the average for the same period during the previous 10 years, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center…. Fully half of the nation’s pastures and rangelands were in poor or very poor condition, a proportion exceeded only once since weekly growing season records were first gathered in May 1995.
As with the recent heat wave, this type of exceptional, prolonged, and widespread drought is precisely what you would expect from human-induced climate change. So is the astonishing increase in wildfires, as made clear in a recent article in Science magazine, “Warming and earlier spring increases western US forest wildfire activity.”
Future posts will expand on the link between global warming, drought, and wildfire.