California, along with the Western U.S., is in its worst drought in centuries, scientists reported this week.
A study published in Nature Climate Change found the period from 2000 to 2021 was the driest in 1,200 years. Last year’s drought severity was “exceptional,” researchers said, and all indications are the extreme conditions will continue through 2022.
The human-caused climate crisis has made the "megadrought" 72% worse, the study noted.
What is a "megadrought"?
A megadrought is a period of 20 to 30 years where conditions are much drier than average. There may be some wet years here and there, but drought impacts remain throughout a lengthy period of time. These are much longer in scale than droughts that typically last months or years.
University of Riverside’s Professor of Groundwater Hydrology, Hoori Ajami, said the desert has recently seen much hotter and drier conditions.
“If you're looking at the record temperatures, particularly in the Coachella Valley, we see that there has been an increasing trend in minimum temperatures that's a little bit concerning. So these are the locations that are at the edge of the extreme conditions,” Ajami said.
For example- Since the beginning of this year, the desert has seen 0.05 inches of rain in Palm Springs. That’s down from the 1.71 inch average usually seen in this time period.
“We have warmer temperatures, minimum temperatures, compared to you know, in the past, and also the number of hot days relative to the historic period has increased," Ajami added.
These hot temperatures are making a big impact on warming patterns throughout the valley.
“It's not just that we got less snow, it's that how the snow is melting is changing, you know, we're seeing it melt earlier and earlier in the year," Desert Water Agency's Ashley Metzger added, "And that's problematic to the state system that wasn't really built to handle that.”
Fortunately, Metzger said the Coachella Valley sits on top of a healthy and robust groundwater basin. “Under our feet, hundreds of feet below lots of water there. And on top of that, we have decades of good water management, which means we're not just sucking the water out, we're actually replenishing that water. we're bringing in water from other places.”
As for when it will end? Scientists say it will take several years of above average precipitation.
Experts say it’s all about long term planning to hopefully put an end to extreme drought.
“We look at five year drought risk assessments. we have water shortage, contingency planning. we look at climate change assessments," said Coachella Valley Water District's Lorraine Garcia, "And so together, we can continue to use water efficiently. And we encourage that at all times here in our valley.”