The extreme heat and dry conditions of the past few years pushed what was already an epic, decades-long drought in the American West into a historic disaster that bears the unmistakable fingerprints of climate change. The long-running drought, which has persisted since 2000, can now be considered the driest 22-year period of the past 1,200 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Previous work by some of the same authors of the new study had identified the period of 2000 through 2018 as the second-worst megadrought since the year 800 — exceeded only by an especially severe and prolonged drought in the 1500s. But with the past three scorching years added to the picture, the Southwest’s megadrought stands out in the record as the “worst” or driest in more than a millennium.
“Without climate change, this would not be even close to as bad as one of those historical megadroughts,” said Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “The thing that is really remarkable about this drought period is that temperatures have been warmer than average in all of the years but one.”
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