America’s West Coast recorded the severest dry spell in more than a millennium, a new study found.
The 21st Century has brought California’s worst drought in 1,200 years so far. This is the shocking conclusion researchers reached after comparing soil moisture and water reservoir levels from the past 21 years to ancient records.
The joint study, “Rapid intensification of the emerging southwestern North American megadrought,” confirmed that between the years 2000 and 2021, the Golden State experienced its driest period since 800 AD.
“2000–2021 was the driest 22-year period since at least 800 AD … [and] no other 22-year period since at least 1901 was as dry or as hot,” the team led by University of California geography researcher A. Park Williams said in the research report.
Williams, Columbia University Lamont adjunct associate research scientist Benjamin Cook, and fellow research professor Jason Smerdon revealed that the worst drought was recorded back in the 1500s.
“A previous reconstruction back to 800 AD indicated that the 2000–2018 soil moisture deficit in southwestern North America was exceeded during one megadrought in the late-1500s,” they said.
However, the current dry weather conditions could continue well into the year and possibly reach the same 16th Century levels.
“This drought will very likely persist through 2022, matching the duration of the late-1500s megadrought,” they said.
Last summer, the trio also found two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, recorded their lowest levels in history.
“[This was] triggering unprecedented restrictions on Colorado River usage, in part because the two-year naturalized flow out of Colorado River’s upper basin in water-years 2020–2021 was likely the lowest since at least 1906,” they said.
They also claim monsoon weather systems failed to ease “extreme or exceptional” drought affecting 68% of the western United States between the summers of 2020 and 2021.