Drought & Global Warming

Following the heavy precipitation in California and the Southeast this winter, the National Weather Service announced that, for the first time since 2011, there are no areas of extreme drought in the United States.  No doubt, many climate change deniers will use this information to bolster their argument that global warming is a politically motivated delusion.

Of course, we have plenty of scientific evidence to support both the occurrence of global warming and the fact that human activity is a major factor in its development.  Average annual temperatures have been rising across the globe, polar ice sheets are melting and sea levels are rising.  How climate change will alter regional drought, however, is not yet clear.

While desert regions that lie within the rain shadow of mountain ranges will likely remain arid, those that formed due to the effects of ocean currents may experience a dramatic change as a warming climate alters weather patterns near the poles.  It is certainly possible that some semiarid regions will become wetter while humid areas of the Temperature Zone (including farmlands of the American Midwest) will experience more droughts.  We already know that fisheries are being altered and tropical reefs are being threatened by rising sea temperatures and similar effects will surely become evident in terrestrial ecosystems.  We can either ignore the potential impacts of climate change or do what we can to minimize man-induced global warming; unfortunately, the new Administration in Washington appears to favor a wait-and-see approach.