fifty years of drought

From Jonathan Overpeck last month in Nature (gated):

The complexity of these megadroughts still defies complete explanation and yet it implies that unusually persistent anomalies of sea surface temperature can combine with amplifying changes in vegetation and soil to drive droughts that — if they happened today — would outstrip many of our institutional capacities to deal with such aridity. For example, another tree-ring study highlighted a 50-year drought, with only one normal year of precipitation, in the headwaters of both the Colorado River and the Rio Grande during Roman times. It is hard to imagine how such a drought would play out today, but it would surely prove a much greater challenge to regional water resources and forests than any drought of the past 120 years.

Fifty years of drought, with only one year of normal precipitation. Holy moly. I’d like more discussion of what our “institutional capacities to deal with such aridity” might look like, rather than just a sweeping assertion. We’ve seen our “institutional capacities” able to deal with drought outside of historical experience. But holy moly. Fifty years?




  1. I cited RP Sr some years ago in a land-use planning doc in the context of securing water – he said our (Colo) drought in the early noughties wasn’t that big of a deal, yet our response left a lot to be desired:

    “The magnification of the impacts, therefore, with respect to the actual precipitation deficit indicates Colorado society is now more vulnerable to short-term drought than in the past. This sobering message is the one the policy makers need to digest and react to.”

    Pielke Sr. R.A. et al. 2005. Drought 2002 in Colorado: An Unprecedented Drought or a Routine Drought? Pure Appl. Geophys. 162:8-9 pp. 1455-1479

    One water agency around here did a little experiment with smart meters and tiered pricing and IIRC got some savings out of it, but not enough to offset population growth/in-migration (and now fracking).

    BTW, have the arctic bike clothes out for the first ride of the season when temps drop below zero! yay!

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