The Pacific Northwest of the United States is experiencing a significant heatwave, but the exceptionally hot and dry weather is just the latest addition to the country’s drought conditions, which began in late 2020. Extreme weather conditions have increased demand for water and cooling, while depleting reservoirs more than usual. Drought increases the likelihood of heat-related medical problems and wildfires. According to the US Drought Monitor, the Southwest was hardest hit by extreme and exceptional drought, although it also extended into Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, and Texas.
As of Monday, droughts of varying severity had afflicted nearly 61% of the continental United States. Since September 2020, or for a total of 40 weeks, the percentage has been hovering around 60%. While the number has before reached that level, it has rarely remained there for an extended period. It exceeded the requirement for only five weeks during the 2018 drought.
The last time a serious drought lasted this long in the United States was between April 2012 and May 2013, when droughts afflicted more than 60% of the United States’ land area for 60 weeks in a row and briefly reached near 80%. Nonetheless, even during that time period, the region categorized as experiencing exceptional drought never topped 7%. It has been constantly above 8% for 31 weeks in the current context, and has lately approached 10%.
While temperature fluctuations and extremely hot, extremely dry, or extremely cold days are common, these extreme weather events are predicted to become more frequent and severe as a result of climate change. Scientists have linked the recurrent drought in the Western United States to a changing climate, noting heatwaves that begin earlier in the year and have grown in length and strength.
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