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Mega-Droughts In Our Future

Could devastating mega-droughts – some lasting decades – be the new normal in big parts of the United States? We’ll look at the forecast.

In this Aug. 3, 2012 photo, Tony Frost, of Frost Farms, surveys a pond in the cattle pasture that serves as the water source for his cattle that has nearly dried up in Tallula, Ill. After months of drought, the central Illinois creeks and ponds that the 300 cows and calves drink from on the farm are dry or close to it. Frost has to buy and haul water, about 4,000 gallons a day, split up in four trips to different pastures. (AP)

In this Aug. 3, 2012 photo, Tony Frost, of Frost Farms, surveys a pond in the cattle pasture that serves as the water source for his cattle that has nearly dried up in Tallula, Ill. After months of drought, the central Illinois creeks and ponds that the 300 cows and calves drink from on the farm are dry or close to it. Frost has to buy and haul water, about 4,000 gallons a day, split up in four trips to different pastures. (AP)

We need to sit and really think a bit about this summer’s extremely widespread record heat and drought. We’d like to think it will come and go. Of course we would.

But history shows us that’s not always the way things work. The five-year drought in the American West that began the last decade was the worst in 800 years. Eight hundred!

Scientists are talking about this century shaping up as a very likely century of mega-drought. With profound implications for crops, forests, water – for how and where we live. This hour, On Point: what if drought is here to stay?

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Christopher Williams, professor of geography at Clark University.

Richard Seager, professor at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

Michael Wehner, staff scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “By many measurements, this summer’s drought is one for the record books. But so was last year’s drought in the South Central states. And it has been only a decade since an extreme five-year drought hit the American West. Widespread annual droughts, once a rare calamity, have become more frequent and are set to become the ‘new normal.’

Reuters “Light showers and cooler temperatures forecast for the next week will bring welcome relief to drought-stressed corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Midwest but serious damage has already been done to crops, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.”

CNN “President Obama is calling on Congress to pass a bill to help farmers respond to the nation’s intense drought, saying, ‘Too many Americans are suffering right now to let politics get in the way.’ ”

CBS “Dire fire conditions, like the inferno of heat, turbulence, and fuel that recently turned 346 homes in Colorado Springs to ash, are now common in the West. A lethal combination of drought, insect plagues, windstorms, and legions of dead, dying, or stressed-out trees constitute what some pundits are calling wildfire’s ‘perfect storm.’ ”

 

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