14 US States Currently Wracked by Crippling Droughts


Photo credit: accent on eclectic via Flickr/CC BY

Fourteen U.S. states, from North Carolina to Arizona to Texas -- where conditions are crushing records set in 1917 -- are currently in the midst of devastating droughts. Many are seeking emergency disaster aid; most notably so is Governor Rick Perry of Texas, famous for his vociferous climate change denial. The New York Times covers the story in sordid detail, documenting the economic destruction, the scorching heat, the excruciating dryness. But they leave out one little thing. Guess what that could be? Any mention of climate change. They come dangerously close to making the connection, interviewing a climatologist or two -- but they end up pinning the blame on La Nina. But if I seem to recall correctly, there have been a La Nina or two since 1917 that didn't smash drought records in Texas ...

Here's a list of the states currently seeing painful droughts (see this great Times graphic form more info):

1. North Carolina
2. South Carolina
3. Georgia
4. Florida
5. Alabama
6. Mississippi
7. Louisiana
8. Texas
9. New Mexico
10. Oklahoma
11. Colorado
12. Kansas
13. Arkansas
14. Arizona

And even though the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1950s were drier, modern day droughts of the last few years are warmer -- more like the kind of droughts you'd expect to see with global warming, according to leading climatologists. That's important to remember as you absorb news of these recent droughts.

Indeed, physicist Joe Romm delivers one of his now-trademark screeds against the New York Times for not linking their stories about extreme weather trends to climate change -- which, to be fair, they sometimes do in fact do really well; the recent story on global food shortages comes to mind. But in this case, Romm has a pretty ironclad point. Just look at what the NY Times could have included in its piece (via Climate Progress):

Remember, on our current emissions path, the planet is poised to be 9°F or warmer by 2100. The climate models predict that in mid-latitudes land masses (i.e. inland U.S), warming could be higher -- 11°F warmer ...

And even the Bush administration acknowledged the scientific literature says that on our current emissions path, the SW is poised to get much drier. Last year, a comprehensive literature review, "Drought under global warming: a review," by NCAR found that we risk multiple, devastating global droughts worse than the Dust Bowl even on moderate emissions path. Another study found the U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought this century. And those conditions will likely last a long, long time if we don't act soon.

But before you get the permanent Dust-Bowl, you get warm-weather droughts, the "global-change-type drought," and that is the future of extreme weather this century. If only someone at the NY Times could inform the public about this.

The bottom line is that climate scientists believe conditions quite like (or much worse than) these we're seeing across the US will become more and more common with increased warming. In other words, unless we humanfolk get our act together and curb emissions in a radical way -- get used to heat and aridity like this.

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More on Droughts
Storms, Wildfires & Drought : Carl Pope on the High Cost of Climate Change
Climate Change-Induced Drought Causing Crop Failure, Livestock
Drought Could Overtake Much of World by 2030

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