In the past 1,200 years, the United States has experienced four megadroughts lasting decades to centuries. Now, it increasingly appears that we have already begun another megadrought.

A recent study argues that the drought conditions experienced in the western US since 2000 are the start of a megadrought equal to the worst the US has experienced in 1,200+ years.

While climate change is not the cause of the drought, the warming seen in the past century adds to the amount of evaporation in the already dry western US. Hotter air can hold more moisture and dries out soils faster than cooler air.

Thus, an increasingly hotter climate has led to an increase in the severity of the drought we’re witnessing. Average temperature in the western US has gone up 1.2°C since 2000. Scientists estimate the warming climate is responsible for half of the severity of the current drought conditions. In other words, if not for the warming climate this could be a regular drought and not a megadrought.

While the decades preceding the current 21st century were abnormally wet, it appears we are quickly entering a megadrought, a situation similar to the one seen in the mid-1100s.

Based on historical megadrought data, we can expect these drought conditions to last decades and up to 100 years.

The megadrought from 1575 to 1603 was the worst in the past 1,200 years and the current drought matches the severity. That drought lasted 28 years and was followed by an abnormally wet period once again.

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