A decades-long climate change-fuelled drought in the western United States is drying reservoirs and contributing to an early wildfire season, scientists say.
Flames have scorched more than a million acres (more than 404,000 hectares) across the country so far this year. More than 28,000 fires have burned in 2021 — the highest number of fires at this time of year since 2011.
As people turn to air conditioners to survive heat waves, California and other states are warning people to conserve energy to avoid straining power grids.
According to the US Drought Monitor, states across the west are experiencing extreme and exceptional drought conditions. The conditions have been continuing for two decades, leading scientists to call it a “megadrought.”
“The southwestern US is in a protracted drought period, or megadrought, of the likes we haven’t seen in the observational record in the last millennia,” explained John Abatzoglou, an associate professor at the University of California researching climate and weather.“In the west this year, there’s an astronomical fraction of land that is experiencing severe drought,” Abatzoglou said. This past winter and spring, lacklustre precipitation plus warm temperatures meant low snowpack in the mountains, resulting in rapid drying of the land surface, he said.