Dr. John Harrington Jr., Professor of Geography, Kansas State University, said the western portion of Kansas is now experiencing severe drought of exactly the type expected from a changing climate.

"What’s happening in Kansas is part of a much larger trend. The climate system has fundamentally changed, with human-driven emissions permanently altering temperatures and precipitation patterns. Droughts like this will continue and get worse until climate change is addressed,” he said.

In Kansas, nearly half (47 percent), of the state remains in drought, including 37 counties, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The winter wheat crop in particular is at risk from dry weather and rapid weather swings.

“What we are seeing now is fundamentally different from previous mega-droughts, which were driven largely by precipitation. Now, thanks to higher temperatures driven by climate change, droughts are increasingly temperature-driven, which makes even normal levels of precipitation less effective in relieving drought conditions," added Dr. Valerie Trouet, Assistant Professor in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona.

She added that the current conditions of severe drought in the West/Southwest and bitter cold, ice and snow in the East and Southeast are related to the impact of global warming on the jet stream. With more warming, the jet stream is slowing down, she claimed. She says the polar vortex is the flip side of the California drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, at least moderate drought conditions currently cover 60 to 80 percent of both Arizona and New Mexico, resulting in extreme wildfire outbreaks across the region.

The experts emphasized that the drought is likely just the latest in a series of worsening extreme conditions in the West. They noted that the Southwest has heated up markedly in recent decades, and the period since 1950 has been hotter than any period of the same length in at least 600 years.

Dr. Michael Hanemann, Professor of the Graduate School, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley,  noted the California drought is already as bad as or worse than any drought in recent memory, and "likely the worst the state has seen in seventy years.

"In previous droughts, Mother Nature has had no more than two dry winters in a row. We have now had two dry winters, but there is no guarantee that next winter will be wet. In fact, climate change makes it far more likely that we will have an unprecedented third dry winter. The implications of that for California’s water supplies, agriculture and people would be alarming to say the least,” he said.

This report is designed to offer decision makers and stakeholders a substantial basis from which to make informed choices that will affect the well-being of the region’s inhabitants in the decades to come.

For more information, refer to additional reports.

 

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