Today’s extreme droughts could become average in the future

New study finds that mega-droughts are already the new normal in the American West

Apr 5, 2022 - by Staff

Conditions that, by today’s standards, are considered to be mega-droughts — or conversely, abnormally wet “mega-pluvial” events — may become the average in the future, according to new research led by the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and co-authored by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The research, which relied on large sets of simulations from multiple climate models, including the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model, examined a possible future under a high-end greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The scientists found that the shift from mega-droughts being rare to being normal may have already occurred in some regions, including the American West. 

They also suggest that the changing conditions require new ways of communicating about drought and unusual wetness that can better articulate the variability of precipitation relative to a changing baseline. 

“Future changes are likely to be significant, even in the context of the present-day ups and downs associated with natural variations such as El Niño,” said NCAR scientist John Fasullo, a study co-author. “As a consequence there is a need to redefine the base state climate to communicate in a meaningful way what these ups and downs will look like in the future.”

Read more in the UCSB news release.

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