Preparing for Droughts

Water plays a crucial role in the survival of living things. Where there is water, there is life.

  • Farmers warn that the mega-drought in the Western U.S. threatens to cause devastating crop failures.

  • Scientists predict historic dry summer for much of the U.S.

  • California has seen 900 more wildfires than at this point in 2020.

  • Extreme drought conditions declared

  • Western drought could trigger a volatile U.S. summer.

  • 84% of U.S. West plunged into dangerous drought

At the end of January 2021, severe to extreme drought affected about 28% of the contiguous United States based on the Palmer Drought Index. By the end of March 2021, almost half of the United States experienced some level of drought. It was expected to worsen in upcoming months.

According to earthobservatory.nasa.gov , drought conditions continued into spring 2021. Experts predict that the dry conditions will strain water supplies and have dire effects on the environment, such as increased susceptibility to fire during summer.

Decreasing water levels of lakes and reservoirs during droughts.
Decreasing water levels of lakes and reservoirs during droughts.

The U.S. Drought Monitor includes measurements of climate, soil, and water conditions from more than 350 federal, state, and local observers around the country. NASA provides measurements and models to add to this monitoring effort.

Due to the extent of damages and the number of people involved, drought is the number one natural catastrophe. Drought is severe when the average farming production decreases by 10% and is catastrophic when it decreases by over 30%.

The hardest hit areas are Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. These states had an exceptional drought, which developed in 2020 and persisted through winter.

Another measurement by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites measures soil surface moisture. Much of the West is below historical averages due to an absence of winter storms and below average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. California closed out its fifth consecutive month with below-average rain.

What factors contribute to drought?

Many factors cause the increase in drought:

  1. Rainfall is less than usual for a period of weeks to years

  2. Land temperatures which evaporate water moisture from the soil

  3. Air circulation and weather patterns

  4. Soil moisture levels

  5. Supply and demand of water

  6. Proper collection and storage of water

As temperatures increase, more water evaporates and severe weather conditions also increase. Landscapes and crops need more water and the overall demand for water increases. It is essential to consider changes when discussing water savings. You may need to change the amount of water you use depending on weather conditions.

Soil moisture levels deplete when there is less evaporation of water to create clouds. More water is needed and less is available contributing to a more severe drought. The only way a drought can end is with enough regular soaking rains or significant snow. Rains that soak into the soil can replenish the groundwater. Groundwater provides water to plants and can refill streams during non-rainy periods. One soaking of rain may help improve drought conditions but multiple showers of rains over several months are needed to truly return things to normal.

When a region is growing rapidly, the water demand can exceed the supply. Weather conditions and air patterns push a region toward a drought when the demand for water worsens the situation. Excessive irrigation is an example of people contributing to drought.

Proper collection and storage of water are key to balance the cycle and requires human management.

Severe droughts impact the migration of people. People will move to where there is more water.

What problems are caused by droughts?

Droughts impact society in many ways. They include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depressio