Much of the Northern Hemisphere is struggling with drought or the threat of drought, as Europe experiences an unusually warm, precipitation-free winter and swaths of the American West remain mired in an epic megadrought.
But it’s not just those pockets feeling the pain in the U.S. Most of the Western United States is in some form of drought, with areas of extreme drought concentrated in the Great Plains and Texas. A 23-year megadrought has left the Southwest at the driest it is estimated to have ever been in 1,200 years, based on tree-ring data.
That’s very bad news for Texas cotton farmers. The New York Times recently reported that “2022 was a disaster for upland cotton in Texas,” leading to short supplies and high prices of tampons and cloth diapers, among other products. “In the biggest loss on record, Texas farmers abandoned 74 percent of their planted crops — nearly six million acres — because of heat and parched soil, hallmarks of a megadrought made worse by climate change,” the Times noted.
Even recent heavy storms in California haven’t brought the state out of drought, because the precipitation deficit is so big.
“I want to be clear that these storms — and the likely rain and snow we may get over the next few weeks — did not, nor will they fully, end the drought, at least not yet,” Yana Garcia, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said last Wednesday. “We’re in better shape than we were two months ago, but we’re not out of the woods.”
Just days earlier, Lake Powell, the second-largest U.S. reservoir, dropped to a new record low. Powell is created by a Colorado River dam along the Arizona-Utah border, and if the reservoir goes much lower, experts warn, water won’t be able to pass through it. Millions of people who rely on the Colorado would then lose access to their water supply.
“If you can’t get water out of the dam, it means everyone downstream doesn’t get water,” Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, told USA Today. “That includes agriculture, cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.” The hydroelectric power plant for which the dam was constructed would also cease to function.