Analysis of tree-ring data says that we haven’t seen a drought like this since the year 800 A.D., or maybe longer, but the data doesn’t go back any further than that.
This weekend’s delightfully warm weather was certainly a joy, but concealed what could be climate horrors. Oakland recorded an all-time high temperature of 75 degrees on (checks notes) February 9, we have now gone 32 days without precipitation at what is normally the height of the rainy season, and last month’s Big Sur wildfire raised the possibility that wildfire season already started — in January.
But it’s not just the Bay Area. The New York Times reports on a new scientific publication that indicates the western United States may be seeing the worst drought in 1,200 years. That scientific publication was in Nature Climate Change, which concluded “2000–2021 was the driest 22-yr period since at least 800. This drought will very likely persist through 2022, matching the duration of the late-1500s megadrought.”
Heck, through 2022 seems optimistic! But it wasn’t that long ago that a very wet December and what we thought would be a La Niña Winter had folks optimistic that we could take a year or two off from drought anxiety before it returned again. But this is no longer the case, and studies of tree rings show that this is the most formidable drought the western U.S. has experienced in well over 1000 years. And we are entering Year 22 of this historic drought.
“This drought at 22 years is still in full swing,” UCLA climate scientist Dr. A. Park Williams told the Times. “And it is very, very likely that this drought will survive to last 23 years.”
The Nature Climate Change paper noted a “late-1500s megadrought,” and that one lasted 30 years. The paper concluded the likelihood that this drought would last that long too. But under current global warming and climate change conditions, it's hard to be confident that even by the year 2030 that precipitation and wetness will be back to normal levels.
Image: Matt Palmer via Unsplash