Report: Southwest Drought a 'Preview of Coming Attractions'

A NOAA-led task force warns that the drought facing the western U.S. will continue well into 2022 or later without serious efforts to mitigate human-caused global warming.

1 minute read

October 18, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Dry Lake in Arizona

trekadnshoot / Shutterstock

As the years-long drought in the Southwest continues to intensify, Rebecca Lindsey writes that the "extremely high temperatures brought by human-caused global warming" combined with record-low precipitation to create devastating conditions–and that, without more aggressive interventions to control global warming, the current drought may just be "a preview of coming attractions." This is according to a  new report from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-led task force, which found that "almost the entire western half of the contiguous United States" faced "some level of drought" by the end of August 2021, while temperatures for the prior months reached "near-record highs."

Exactly how devastating these conditions will be in different parts of the Southwest will depend on regional and seasonal variability in future precipitation as well as the decisions people make about how to manage the region’s scarce water resources. But the current drought suggests that the costs will be steep and the impacts far-reaching. The NOAA Drought Task Force estimated that the 2020 economic cost of drought in the Southwest was between $515 million and $1.3 billion—not including the costs associated with fires.

The task force warns that this year's winter precipitation will likely "be below average once again," dashing hopes for a break in the current drought.

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