A shocking study suggests that the Southwest may never see consistent rains again - here's why.
Drought has taken quite a toll in the western United States in recent years, and a shocking new study suggests that it may be here to stay. According to a report from CS Monitor, scientists warn that droughts are most likely the new normal in the Southwest.
The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed that the storms that bring much-needed rains to southwestern states are becoming increasingly rare over time. According to Andreas Prein, the study’s lead author and researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, it’s becoming much easier for a drought to occur in the Southwest.
The study examined the long-term precipitation patterns in the Southwest, showing that the majority of its rainfall comes from low-pressure systems that swoop down from the Pacific Northwest. Over the 35-year time span between 1979 and 2014, Prein found that the wet season had contracted significantly, with less heavy rains occurring during the winter months.
“The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” wrote Prein. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.”
So what does this mean for the southwestern states? Fresh water will be harder to come by for agricultural and industrial purposes, and residents can likely expect to continue taking measures to conserve water in their homes. Green grass may become a less common sight in many areas, and fierce public debates about water rights are likely to intensify.
While droughts certainly have a wide range of ill effects on a society that uses a ton of fresh water, it may not be all bad news – just because droughts have been intensifying over the past 35 years, it doesn’t mean that it will stay this way forever.
“Equally as important but much easier to forget is that we consider the last 150 years or so to be normal,” said Dr. Scott Stine of California State University, East Bay, another drought researcher. “But you don’t have to go back very far at all to find much drier decades, and much drier centuries.”
A press release from the NCAR describing the details of the study can be found here.