Based on news reports of record-sized wildfires, it would seem that the worst drought scourged parts of America are in Southern California and Oregon. However, four huge parts of America are suffering from drought which is much more extreme and has already crippled the environment, living conditions, and the economy.
Drought levels are broken into five levels and measured by the National Drought Mitigation Center. Abnormally dry weather, known a “D0,” is when short-term dryness and some brief water deficits exist. “D1” drought, known as moderate drought causes some damage to crops, and water use may be curtailed. “D2” drought, known as severe drought, means crop losses and water deficits. “D3”, known as extreme drought, means major crop losses and widespread water shortages. “D4”, known as exceptional drought, means devastating crop damage and water shortages in reservoirs and rivers.
Most of the areas hit by wildfires and Oregon and California are at D3 levels.
The largest area of D4 drought levels is in the western part of Colorado. It runs from Grand Junction in the north to the San Juan National Forest and the city of Cortez in the south. The federal government says that the Colorado River, which runs near the region, will be affected by drought for at least five years. Dry weather left snow levels low enough that as it melted, the area got very little help. In the early part of the year, Grand Junction received less than an inch of rain per month.
Another huge area which suffers from D4 drought levels runs from western Utah into eastern Nevada. The area begins, in its eastern portion, just south of Salt Lake City and Provo, and moves across to Ely, Nevada. The National Weather Service reported that Utah had had the third driest year on record. Reservoirs in this part of Utah as near dangerously low levels. For part of the state, the drought has been described as the worst in 1,200 years.
There is a D4 level drought in southern Arizona as well, particularly in the area around Tuscon. The entire area runs from the middle of the state almost down to the Mexican border. Temperatures have also been above 90 more days in 2020 than usual. Scientists have described the 2000 to 2018 period as the driest 19-year span in the area since the 1500s.
The last large area of D4 drought is in central and southern New Mexico–two areas broken in half by an area of D3 conditions. The area in the center of the state is around Albuquerque. In the south, it surrounds Las Cruces. Much of the area is irrigated, but over the last decade, several small towns have run out of water. The Rio Grande Reservoir sits near historically low levels.
There is no evidence in the forecasts for any of these four areas that relief can be expected. Most are in the midst of drought periods, which have lastest off and on for years. Changes to water use, farming, and businesses are now permanent.
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