There’s an 80 percent chance the drought in the Southwest could last a decade, study finds


Anita Pointon shows where the water has to soak over to in order to reach a bed of corn seeds on her farm in Las Animas, Colorado Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (Photo by Lydia DePillis/The Washington Post)

The drought effecting the Southwest has an 80 percent likelihood of being a “megadrought” lasting about a decade, according to a study to be published in the Journal of Climate.

Research has shown that over the past 1,000 years, 10-year droughts have happened once or twice a century, and multi-decade droughts have happened once or twice a millenium, said Toby Ault, an assistant professor in Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and an author of the study. “Those numbers have held up pretty well,” he told the Washington Post.

However, the study suggests previous estimates underestimate the risk of an extended drought, something the study attempted to account for by estimating “the risk of megadrought with climate change and without climate change” and factored in “natural variations,” Ault said.

The study also found the likelihood of a drought lasting longer than 35 years was between 20 to 50 percent, and the likelihood of a 50-year drought is 5 to 10 percent.

Ault said he hopes the findings will be another resource for water resource managers to plan for droughts.

“I view megadroughts as another source of natural hazard, not one that we can’t handle,” he said. “I am sincerely optimistic that we can find solutions to manage this hazard.”

The study was co-written by Ault, Julia Cole, Jonathan Overpeck, and David Meko from the University of Arizona, and Gregory Pederson from Bozeman.

Hunter Schwarz covers the intersection of politics and pop culture for the Washington Post

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