Mega-drought expected to continue in western Colorado and across the west for years, scientists say – Greeley Tribune

Not only is the American West the driest in more than a millennium, but the mega-drought is likely to continue for years, diminishing Colorado’s already inadequate water supply and increasing the risk of wildfires. , according to climatologists.

According to a study published this week in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the current 22-year mega-drought in the West has surpassed the mega-drought of the late 1500s, previously considered the worst on record. Moreover, about 42% of the severity of this mega-drought can be attributed to human-caused climate change.

Soil moisture, rising temperatures and climate modeling show a 94% chance the drought will continue for a 23rd year, said Jason Smerdon, a climatologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the United States. ‘Columbia University.

And there’s a 75% chance the mega-drought will continue into its 30th year in 2029, said Smerdon, also a co-author of the study.

The study focuses primarily on conditions west of the continental divide, said Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center. But these conditions also affect life on the Front Range.

Snow and precipitation can fluctuate over wet and dry months or years, Schumacher said, and as temperatures rise, more moisture than normal is lost due to evaporation.

“The situation becomes very concerning if you have a lot of dry years and likewise the rainfall and the snowpack that we are getting doesn’t go as far as it used to,” Schumacher said.

The likely ongoing dry spell comes at a time when the Colorado River, which supplies water to about 35 million people, and reservoirs along the waterway are at record highs, Smerdon said.

Currently, no part of Colorado is untouched by water scarcity, according to data released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center. The vast majority of the state is currently considered “abnormally dry” or in various stages of “moderate” or “severe” drought. About 9% of the state’s land is considered to be in “extreme” drought, according to the data.

Additionally, snowpack levels for the majority of the state are below normal levels for this time of year, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. . Continued, above-average snowfall and precipitation is needed through spring to recharge the state’s parched soils and streams, experts have repeatedly told the Denver Post.

Schumacher said more snowfall is forecast for western Colorado next week, but probably not enough.

“February and March are key times to build that snowpack,” he said. “And unless it’s these really big storms like the ones we had in December, things are definitely not as good as they were a month ago.”

In 2020, Hirakata Farms made the decision not to plan on 30% of its available land due to drought. A Hirakata Farms field is pictured September 23, 2020 in Rocky Ford.

Continued lack of water in the future would also mean an increased risk of forest dieback, wildfires, insect outbreaks and other environmental consequences, Smerdon said. Agriculture, tourism and other parts of the economy would also suffer, although the societal implications are difficult to predict, he said.

“We know what happens when we warm up the climate,” Smerdon said. “What we don’t know is what happens when we warm people up.”

The Nature Climate Change study, which looked at soil moisture and data collected from tree rings, showed severe mega-droughts have occurred throughout Earth’s history, Smerdon said. , but human development and the outpouring of greenhouse gas emissions have compounded the effects of these natural droughts.

“It would have been a dry period, with no human influence, but it wouldn’t have been as severe, as long, or as evenly widespread in the southwest,” Smerdon said.

Unless humans take action to stop dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the effects of climate change are likely to worsen, he said.

“If you’re in a hole, stop digging,” Smerdon said. “We absolutely have to reverse the trend.

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