Climate Change Drought Fairy Tale Season Is Here

It’s that time of year again! Summer, when things get hot and dry and certain seasonal extreme weather events naturally occur -- as do alarming claims about them. When hurricanes form during “hurricane season,” expect climate alarmists to claim human-caused climate change is creating them, even though hurricanes have always formed at this time of year (thus the existence of the term “hurricane season”).

When wildfires break out during “wildfire season,” scorching thousands of acres of mismanaged, overgrown forests, expect climate alarmists to claim human-caused climate change is causing them, even though wildfires have always been sparked at this time of year (thus the existence of the term “wildfire season”).

The third in the trifecta of weather-related horror stories we can expect to read about every summer is drought. Droughts are normal and natural. At any point in time, portions of the United States and the world suffer from a drought of some length and severity. The areas suffering from drought change in response to shifts in short- and long-term weather and oceanic patterns of varying scales that affect precipitation. But that a drought is occurring somewhere, sometime is almost a certainty.

Some regions of the world and places in the United States are more prone to drought than others, of course. Those same areas are also more prone to prolonged droughts of multiple months, years, and sometimes even decades or millennia. The western United States is one such area.

This year’s drought-scare climate hype season has begun. A recent Yahoo! News article promoted the false claim human-caused climate change is responsible for a “historic” drought in California and the western United States.

“Back-to-back dry years in conjunction with above-average temperatures have exacerbated drought conditions across the American West, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on its website,” notes Yahoo News. “The extent of the drought is unprecedented in recorded history…”

Data show “back-to-back” dry years are not unusual in California or the western United States, even in recorded history. Neither California nor the western United States is experiencing a mega-drought.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) resurrected Climate Change Indicator series mid-May post titled “Climate Change Indicators: Drought,” undermines Yahoo News’ “historic” drought fairy tale.

“Average drought conditions across the nation have varied over time,” writes EPA. “The 1930s and 1950s saw the most widespread droughts, while the last 50 years have generally been wetter than average [see the figure below]. Over the entire period… the overall trend has been toward wetter conditions,” wrote EPA.

EPA’s report confirms what other sources of data demonstrate. As reported in Climate at a Glance: Drought, for example, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports America is currently undergoing its longest period in recorded history with less than 40 percent of the country experiencing “very dry” conditions. Also, the United States in 2017 -- and then again in 2019 -- registered its smallest percentage of land area experiencing drought. In California, for example, 2019 ranked among the state’s wettest years since official records have been kept.

Interestingly, Yahoo News excludes the western states of Colorado and Wyoming from its analysis. Perhaps that’s because had Yahoo News included data from these two states, it would have further undermined the claim that the drought in the American West was historic.

In less than six months, the area of Colorado experiencing some level of drought fell from 100 percent to less than 50 percent. The area of Colorado experiencing severe drought conditions or worse, declined from 93 percent of the state to approximately 35 percent at present.

By contrast, in June 2020, nearly 99 percent of Wyoming was drought-free. This has changed. At present, 24 percent of Wyoming is experiencing at least severe drought, still far below Yahoo News’ assertion that 72 percent of the western United States was suffering from a severe, multi-year drought.

Colorado and Wyoming’s precipitation records show how dramatically drought conditions can change in short periods. The lesson: drought comes and goes, lingering in some places longer than in others.

Research conclusively demonstrates the current drought in the western United States is not historic in length or severity.

In the book The West Without Water, the authors note, “Prolonged droughts -- some of which lasted more than a century -- brought thriving civilizations, such as the ancestral Pueblo (Native Americans) of the Four Corners region, to starvation, migration, and finally collapse.”

Indeed, research shows decade-long droughts happen once or twice a century in the western United States. What’s more, droughts lasting for multiple decades occur a few times each millennium.

To conclude, “back-to-back” years of drought are hardly uncommon, and don’t count as mega-droughts. Also, because mega-droughts in the western United States have lasted for decades and even centuries, it is impossible to attribute current drought conditions, barely two years old, to human-caused global warming.

Americans should know these facts. Especially as the mainstream media and radical climate alarmists bombard the public with reports claiming human-caused climate change is causing a historic mega-drought in the West and that conditions will become worse in the future unless Americans cede power to international climate experts and cease using fossil fuels.

Unlike droughts, their arguments are all wet.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hburnett@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Image: Pixabay

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