Aug 12, 2021

Extreme Drought in 2021

Drought | by Wendy Erickson | 2 Minutes

In the summer of 2021, much of the Southwest and West United States has suffered under extreme and devastating drought conditions. In mid-July, more than 95% of the West was in drought. Across the border in Mexico, thousands of cattle are dying from starvation and lack of water due to sparse vegetation.

Recent monsoons in the Southwest have helped alleviate some of the dry conditions, but have introduced the added danger of excess water and flooding in some regions. Although rain can quench wildfires, in areas of high humidity rainstorms can become high altitude “dry thunderstorms” where conditions are so warm and dry that rain evaporates before it reaches the ground. These events can result in dangerous “dry lightning” which often ignites wildfires.

Water is an integral part of the function of our ecosystems, communities, and economies. Drought conditions can vary widely in duration and severity, and are classified as: abnormally dry (D0), moderate drought (D1), severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3), and exceptional drought (D4). Many areas of the West and Southwest have been in the D4 category for much of the summer.

What’s Your Future Drought Risk?

Cities in California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, and Virginia are projected to have a high risk of water stress in 2050. Water stress compares water supply to water demand and takes into account factors like precipitation, water usage, population growth, properties of the watershed, and climate change.

Drought - Relative water stress risk in 2050 - US map

Prepare for water shortages by inspecting your home’s drought risk.

U.S. Drought Conditions and Solutions

Drought has been a feature of the West and Southwest for a long time, but climate change is causing longer dry seasons, hotter heatwaves, and declines in rainfall. Farmers dig more and deeper wells to try to mitigate the damage of drought for their investments, often causing irreversible environmental damage due to lowering water tables. In early August, the California water board approved emergency regulations to block thousands of farmers and landowners from diverting water from from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.

In addition to water restrictions already in place, shockingly low water levels in Lake Mead, the United State’s largest reservoir, are very likely to cause the declaration of the first-ever water shortage along the Colorado River. 25,000,000 people rely on the water from this region.

Local government and national politicians are seeking answers to these extreme drought conditions. Some suggest a mixture of investment in water infrastructure, improved scientific data on water and water technology, ecosystem restoration projects, drought relief assistance, and education on water resources. Effective infrastructure and conservation practices are a very important part of the effort to resist drought damage in the United States. Green infrastructure practices can also help effectively capture stormwater and rainwater and relieve pressure on strained aquifers.

Worldwide Drought Conditions and Solutions

Outside of the United States, drought conditions this summer are particularly bad in the Middle East and North Africa. Many nations are proposing their own solutions to the issue of drought. Here are some of their proposed and implemented plans:

  • Singapore: robust state water strategy including recycled water and desalination
  • UAE: “cloud seeding” weather modification, lazer drones modified to trigger rainfall, and desalination plants
  • Cape Town, South Africa: increased water efficiency standards in buildings, restrictions on non-essential water use, infrastructure repair, and public awareness programs
  • Morocco: Better efficiency standards, resource allocation practices, and water quality protection

See the drought monitor map to view data on the ongoing drought conditions in the United States and how they might affect you. You can also read our page on flood risk to learn more about floods and mitigation options for your home.