A map of the severe conditions released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor – which was started in 2000 and is produced through a partnership of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – showed the vast region in dire straits.
NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reported that for the third consecutive week, “extreme” and “exceptional” drought levels have set a record, with 49.7% of the West in that category.
“The high prior to the 2020/2021 drought was July 23, 2002, at 45.3%,” the agency noted in a tweet.
NOAA’s climate page described drought and heat as “natural dance partners,” with drought exacerbated when temperatures soar and vice versa.
Drought is also driven by La Niña conditions, which were in place through winter 2020 to 2021.
NOAA noted that there is evidence climate change has played a hand in creating this reality – with heat waves occurring more often and lasting longer since the 1960s and temperatures rising steadily due to the release of greenhouse gases.
Scientists warned last year that the worst-ever climate-spurred “megadroughts” could devastate the West, based on 1,200 years of tree ring data, modern weather observations and 31 advanced climate models.