Another dangerous fire season is looming in the Western U.S., and the drought-stricken region is headed for a water crisis

Mojtaba Sadegh, Boise State University; Amir AghaKouchak, University of California, Irvine, and John Abatzoglou, University of California, Merced

Just about every indicator of drought is flashing red across the western U.S. after a dry winter and warm early spring. The snowpack is at less than half of normal in much of the region. Reservoirs are being drawn down, river levels are dropping and soils are drying out.

It’s only May, and states are already considering water use restrictions to make the supply last longer. California’s governor declared a drought emergency in 41 of 58 counties. In Utah, irrigation water providers are increasing fines for overuse. Some Idaho ranchers are talking about selling off livestock because rivers and reservoirs they rely on are dangerously low and irrigation demand for farms is only just beginning.

Scientists are also closely watching the impact that the rapid warming and drying is having on trees, worried that water stress could lead to widespread tree deaths. Dead and drying vegetation means more fuel for what is already expected to be another dangerous fire season.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on May 13, 2021, that federal fire officials had warned them to prepare for an extremely active fire year. “We used to call it fire season, but wildland fires now extend throughout the entire year, burning hotter and growing more catastrophic in drier conditions due to climate change,” Vilsack said.

As climate scientists, we track these changes. Right now, about 84% of the western U.S. is under some level of drought, and there is no sign of relief.

Color-coded map showing drought
The U.S. Drought Monitor for mid-May shows nearly half of the West in severe or extreme drought. National Drought Mitigation Center/USDA/NOAA

The many faces of drought

Several types of drought are converging in the West this year, and all are at or near record levels.

When too little rain and snow falls, it’s known as meteorological drought. In April, precipitation across large parts of the West was less than 10% of normal, and the lack of rain continued into May.

Rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater can get into what’s known as hydrological drought when their water levels fall. Many states are now warning about low streamflow after a winter with less-than-normal snowfall and warm spring temperatures speeding up melting. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it would cut off water to a canal serving farms in the Klamath Project on the Oregon-California border because of low water supplies. It also warned that Lake Mead, a giant Colorado River reservoir that provides water for millions of people, is on pace to fall to levels in June that could trigger the first federal water shortage declaration, with water use restrictions across the region.

Dwindling soil moisture leads to another problem, known as agricultural drought. The average soil moisture levels in the western U.S. in April were at or near their lowest levels in over 120 years of observations.

Four US maps showing drought levels of precipitation, vapor pressure deficit, evapotranspiration and streamflow
Four signs of drought. Climate Toolbox

These factors can all drive ecosystems beyond their thresholds – into a condition called ecological drought – and the results can be dangerous and costly. Fish hatcheries in Northern California have started trucking their salmon to the Pacific Ocean, rather than releasing them into rivers, because the river water is expected to be at historic low levels and too warm for young salmon to tolerate.

Snow drought

One of the West’s biggest water problems this year is the low snowpack.

The western U.S. is critically dependent on winter snow slowly melting in the mountains and providing a steady supply of water during the dry summer months. But the amount of water in snowpack is on the decline here and across much of the world as global temperatures rise.

Several states are already seeing how that can play out. Federal scientists in Utah warned in early May that more water from the snowpack is sinking into the dry ground where it fell this year, rather than running off to supply streams and rivers. With the state’s snowpack at 52% of normal, streamflows are expected to be well below normal through the summer, with some places at less than 20%.

Map of western U.S. showing many areas with low snowpack
Snowpack is typically measured by the amount of water it holds, known as snow water equivalent. National Resource Conservation Service

Anthropogenic drought

It’s important to understand that drought today isn’t only about nature.

More people are moving into the U.S. West, increasing demand for water and irrigated farmland. And global warming – driven by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels – is now fueling more widespread and intense droughts in the region. These two factors act as additional straws pulling water from an already scarce resource.

As demand for water has increased, the West is pumping out more groundwater for irrigation and other needs. Centuries-old groundwater reserves in aquifers can provide resilience against droughts if they are used sustainably. But groundwater reserves recharge slowly, and the West is seeing a decline in those resources, mostly because water use for agriculture outpaces their recharge. Water levels in some wells have dropped at a rate of 6.5 feet (2 meters) per year.

The result is that these regions are less able to manage droughts when nature does bring hot, dry conditions.

Rising global temperatures also play several roles in drought. They influence whether precipitation falls as snow or rain, how quickly snow melts and, importantly, how quickly the land, trees and vegetation dry out.

Extreme heat and droughts can intensify one another. Solar radiation causes water to evaporate, drying the soil and air. With less moisture, the soil and air then heat up, which dries the soil even more. The result is extremely dry trees and grasses that can quickly burn when fires break out, and also thirstier soils that demand more irrigation.

Alarmingly, the trigger for the drying and warming cycle has been changing. In the 1930s, lack of precipitation used to trigger this cycle, but excess heat has initiated the process in recent decades. As global warming increases temperatures, soil moisture evaporates earlier and at larger rates, drying out soils and triggering the warming and drying cycle.

Fire warnings ahead

Hot, dry conditions in the West last year fueled a record-breaking wildfire season that included the largest fires on record in Colorado and California.

As drought persists, the chance of large, disastrous fires increases. The seasonal outlook of warmer and drier-than-normal conditions for summer and fire season outlooks by federal agencies suggest another tough, long fire year is ahead.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

This article was updated with a statement from Secretaries Deb Haaland and Tom Vilsack.

Mojtaba Sadegh, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Boise State University; Amir AghaKouchak, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, and John Abatzoglou, Associate Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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May 17, 2021 2:09 pm

I live in an “abnormally dry” part of Colorado, where it’s raining at the moment. We’ve had a cool spring with double the amount of precipitation as usual, much in the form of snow.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 2:31 pm

My daughter and her family live in Evergreen CO. She reports the same thing. They had snow a bit ago, and her boy’s first weekend of Little League baseball had to be cancelled. The boys went sledding instead.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 3:14 pm

Evergreen is nice. I used to take my kids ice skating there on the lake.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 3:52 pm

True background. They were living in Chicago. Bought an old big yard suburb house in Oak Lawn, horrible commutes for both. They went on ski vacation in CO (my daughter has been skiing since age two in my backpack in Switzerland) then caught up with college friends in Denver. Came back to Chicago, called, said Dad, we are selling the new place and moving to CO. My ex wife helped them pick Evergreen (Montessori school). They were renting while finding a buy. The buy turned out to be a fixer upper on 8 acres ‘next door’. So I gave them their construction loan (since fully repaid) and my ex bought their former rental because it came up before they finished construction. Now we have a ~15 acre two home, 6 br, 3 full plus 2 half bath ‘compound’ skiing base. Life can turn lemons into lemonade sometimes.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 4:29 pm

Skiing is my exercise and enjoyment in winter. I try to get up a couple times a week, mostly to Eldora.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 8:25 pm

We did Eldora the day after Thanksgiving last year, since the interstate to planned Winterpark was closed by rockslides. Boy, at my age you soon learn the difference between sea level fit and 7500 fit.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 4:35 pm

Is the Wiffel Tree still open?

Jean Parisot
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 18, 2021 6:09 pm

I stayed in evergreen last week, decent snow.

Paul S.
Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 4:43 pm

It is currently raining. The last month has been mostly rain and snow in Boulder, and I can’t get my model A on the road and drive. Darn, but love the moisture. Lawn looks great

Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 4:44 pm

Used to live in Colorado. People don’t know it’s a semi-arid climate. It’s DRRYYYY.

They see snow in the mountains and see all the trees on the Front Range… trees that only exist because of urban sprawl.

In the past 5 weeks in the Denver metro area it’s 1) snowed, 2) snowed, 3)snowed 4) rained, 5) and currently raining

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Ruleo
May 18, 2021 6:52 am

Green Mountain is actually green right now instead of its usual brown.

Reply to  Ruleo
May 20, 2021 1:32 pm

I remember Salt Lake City from above. Other than the nearby mountain range, it looked like a green stamp on a pale-brown desert.

Steve Keohane
Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 8:53 pm

I live on the western slope, and checked the average precip. that I measure daily for 10/1-4/9 for the past twelve years. We are right on average at 9″ this year, but one sigma is 5″ due to the variability we have. So I call BS on the drought monitor chart. With ~18″ on the west slope and ~12″ on the front range for annual precipitation, it’s no wonder this is part of the ‘desert southwest’.

May 17, 2021 2:09 pm

Rising global temperatures also play several roles in drought. They influence whether precipitation falls as snow or rain, how quickly snow melts and, importantly, how quickly the land, trees and vegetation dry out.

It has been cooling for the last 6 years……

There were bad droughts in the 1970s in the west too during the few decades long global cooling.

So bad in 1976 that Snoqualmie reservoir was 99% empty with just a tiny creek flowing down the middle, I saw it first hand.


Last edited 1 year ago by Sunsettommy
John Tillman
Reply to  Sunsettommy
May 17, 2021 2:44 pm

Well do I recall the winter of 1977, when the PDO flipped. The closest we ever came to a crop failure in my 50 years experience of a wheat ranch on the semi-arid Coumbia Plateau.

Richard Patton
Reply to  Sunsettommy
May 18, 2021 12:43 pm

PDX just posted their 30 running averages (“normals”) and the climate is changing alright (It always does). Wetter overall especially in the winter. Drier and warmer in the summer. i.e. we are slowly moving from a Csb, to Csa type of climate. Just 1 more deg F in July and our climate will be what people normally think of as Mediterranean. Portland has been Mediterranean climate since its founding despite the propaganda of the rain never stopping that we like to publish.

John Tillman
May 17, 2021 2:10 pm

La Niña strikes again!

Note that the WA Cascades are wet, while OR is dry, as to be expected..

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 2:15 pm

In related hydrological news, Arctic sea ice extent was higher yesterday than in any year since 2013, and Antarctic since 2015.

Griff must be distraught, his Church of CACA god having failed.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 4:19 pm

…. and 2006 and 2004. I only do it stop griff speaking drivel to me. It works.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 2:17 pm

Yup the lack of onshore flow from the Pacific is major factor on drier weather patterns. Have been getting a LOT of Northerly winds the last couple months

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 2:18 pm

A dry winter means less fuel for forest fires, but the main causes of recent Western wildfires have been appaling woodlands and utility mismanagement, plus winds.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 4:16 pm

In SW Utah, beetle kill has the forest ready to burn like he!!. SO, the local fire warden with the state is paying to clear fir trees from between the Ponderosa pines so that a fire will not be able to reach the canopy. Ponderosas are fire resistant for grass and brush fires but fir trees with branches close to ground level can carry the fire up to the branches on the Ponderosas. They are clearing out from around built areas first. I have been collecting a LOT of rounds to let dry for the next few years to split when ready.

We had a much below average snow year and almost no runoff, most of the snow melted into the DRY ground, so there is grass. The local Chief and Warden have told me that this season’s conditions are at a 50 year high for fire hazard.

The local FD wild land crews (2 this year) are doing the clearing while awaiting to be dispatched for a state or federal response. We were lucky to have one wild land crew available last year. They, along with the regular crew who are also wild land certified, stopped a lightning strike started fire at 73 acres. Due to being a full time professional department, they were able to call in air resources before the regional command people arrived. Without the air resources they may not have been able to stop the fire. They had it 90% contained before the state and BLM people showed up. They are about 1 1/2 hours away.

Last year was the FIRST year for the department to be full time professional AND to have a licensed wild land team. Under the previous staffing (a 2 man staff and limited number of volunteers) and Chief, it would have been very scary. They had 9 men 2 rigs and 2 tenders to throw at the fire. The previous year they would have had 2 men plus the Chief. Essentially just drivers for the rigs.

The upgrade to a full time professional department started February last year. It is amazing what a dedicated Chef and deputies can due in such a short time. The district is 190 square miles of mostly national forest with about 8 square miles of developed areas interspersed within the forest.

Timing is everything.

Reply to  Drake
May 18, 2021 1:29 am

and why is there so much beetle kill… warmer winters, climate change

Reply to  griff
May 18, 2021 12:52 pm

Pine Beetle kill has been going on for a long time, through global cooling and warming phases for centuries.

Here are so “heavy” reading for you to catch up on from University of Florida:
common name: southern pine beetle
scientific name: Dendroctonus frontalis Zimmermann (Insecta: Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae)

and from National Park Service:

Mountain Pine Beetle

You are an ignorant Englishman babbling about American Forests.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Sunsettommy
May 18, 2021 1:03 pm

griff inserts shoe leather into facial orifice yet again…

Reply to  griff
May 20, 2021 1:41 pm

grifter, why is it that always the “bad things” proliferate from warmer temps, and always the “good things” suffer? An average, reasonable mind would find that suspicious, no?

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 5:29 pm

Every year is said to be a bad fire year. If it rains a lot, then fire officials warn that the grass is taller and there is so much more fuel which makes it a bad fire year. If it doesn’t rain a lot, then they warn that the grass is much drier which makes it burn quicker which makes it a bad fire year.

Reply to  Doonman
May 18, 2021 1:28 am

(Snipped out your junk comment, you need to do more than your usual one liner hit and run comments that doesn’t stay on topic well) SUNMOD

Last edited 1 year ago by Sunsettommy
May 17, 2021 2:15 pm

Let’s review. After the last La Nina we had massive drought in California. Then precipitation returned to normal, which is what will happen again. Did California install desal plants in the interim to prepare for the next La Nina? Also, you mentioned “Global Warming” and yet the last two monthly readings are below their baseline. Not much for warming. And yes there is a huge increase in water demand especially in Phoenix and Vegas.

Reply to  JamesD
May 17, 2021 5:11 pm

Actually Vegas gets NO new water from the Colorado river since it has been topped out for years, and Nevada only gets 4% of the lower basin water resources.

Arizona gets about 38% and Cali gets about 59%.

When I first came out west, I took the Greyhound bus from Tucson to Vegas in 1977. That was before the Central Arizona Project was completed. Riding to Phoenix we passed MILES of cotton fields. The wife and I traveled from Vegas to Tucson and back this winter. We noted the MILES of what used to be cotton fields, long since “retired” from farming, although there were still some active cotton growing areas.

In the last 10 years the census shows Nevada’s population increasing 15%, mostly in Vegas, but only about 350.000 people. Arizona at about 12%, but about 1,000,000 due to the larger population. California increased about 6%, but that was about 2,240,000 more residents.

By far MOST Colorado river water goes to agriculture. Upwards of 70%.

Interesting read:

Las Vegas, and Nevada, who have such a small share of the water had to do something to “find” more water over 20 years ago and started to make changes so that the population could continue to grow. The Water district paid people to remove grass, the County commission limited grass on commercial projects, etc. and they raised the water rates and stepped them from “household” use levels to irrigation uses like lawns.

Reply to  JamesD
May 17, 2021 5:36 pm

California adds no new water storage facilities, ever. In fact, they drain reservoirs yearly. Less than two years ago, every reservoir in the state was brimming with water, and held a supply to last a minimum of five dry years without another drop of rain. Shasta and Oroville by themselves held enough water to meet the needs of 80 million people for a year. With 25 million receiving water from these sources, those two reservoirs alone could deliver water for more than three years. But the majority of that stored water has been released to the ocean for ongoing environmental causes that have not benefitted a single endangered fish. Water managers claim the problem is families are not conserving enough. They are now recommending only using water for drinking and sanitation, and to stop watering any landscape that is not edible.

Reply to  Doonman
May 18, 2021 9:09 am

That’s not entirely true about no new water storage facilities in CA. In Socal the Seven Oaks Dam was completed in 2000 and Diamond Valley Lake was completed in 2003.

Reply to  Kevin
May 18, 2021 9:48 am

Seven Oaks is a dry dam reservoir used only for flood control and Diamond Valley is an off stream reservoir supplied by pipelines from other reservoirs.

Like I said, California adds no new water storage facilities ever. The Auburn Dam was last one authorized in 1965, and was cancelled by environmentalists after being more than halfway built.

Reply to  Doonman
May 18, 2021 12:42 pm

I get your point but you missed my point. You said; “California adds no new water storage facilities, ever” which isn’t true. The Seven Oaks Dam is a new dam that besides it’s main purpose of preventing floods downstream it’s also used to recharge ground water and there is currently a proposal to use it for water storage for future use. As for the Diamond Valley Lake, it is a water storage facility so I don’t know what else it’s called. Is your definition of water storage facility different than mine or something? I mean, a water storage facility is a water storage facility, right?

As for the Auburn Dam being more than halfway built. I thought just a road or two realignment that was done as well as a diversion tunnel or two had been finished. I didn’t know it was more than halfway built before construction was stopped. Huell Howser did a California’s Gold episode about it but I don’t recall him showing or mentioning it being halfway built.

Yes CA can use more water storage but with the current amount of people leaving the state daily perhaps it won’t be needed.

M Courtney
May 17, 2021 2:21 pm

So in coastal areas, like California, warmer air carries more moisture and thus causes drought.
Not entirely sure I follow this logic.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  M Courtney
May 17, 2021 2:40 pm

You have to follow their weather feelings, cause they haven’t any climate logic.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 3:13 pm

“Feelings” are the new logic. It’s not only turtles all the way down; they all have “feelings” now.

Ulric Lyons
May 17, 2021 2:26 pm

“Just about every indicator of drought is flashing red across the western U.S. after a dry winter and warm early spring.”

The 2017 Californian wildfires followed heavy rains and floods at the start of the year, which boosted the undergrowth fuel load.

Reply to  Ulric Lyons
May 17, 2021 4:28 pm

Don’t be confusing the stupiderati with facts now …..

Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 2:27 pm

Once again confounding weather (this years low snow pack) with climate (average over 30 years—and ‘forgetting’ snow pack was abnormally high a couple of years back, which almost caused the loss of the Oroville dam).
Once again confounding population growth in dry regions (Las Vegas), and thus growing water needs, with drought.
Once again, anthropogenic attribution when the historic record shows distinct natural periods of wet and dry West going back hundreds of years.
Once again, The Conversation—about which obvious biases we could have a conversation.

John Tillman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 2:41 pm

The present situation isn’t a pimple on the posterior of past true megadroughts, which are associated with long term cool periods, or the cool cycles within warm periods. The SW experienced megadroughts in the 9th, 12th, 13th and 16th centuries, disrupting American Indian cultures. For example, dry conditions drove the Anasazi from their pueblo settlements in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

The last severe megadrought was in the early 17th century, ie in the middle of the LIA.

As a Stanford student, I canoed on Fallen Leaf Lake:

Rud Istvan
Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 3:16 pm

I know. On an extended spring trip out west (my wife was a Cubby’s fanatic, so her main purpose was to attend their Mesa spring training)—our game was rained out in the third! We then visited both Chaco Canyon and Waptaki near Flagstaff (where we also got snowed in for a day) for historical and climate ed purposes. Then over to Meteor Monument and then the south rim Grand Canyon. Was a good educational week of stuff they did not get in school.

John Tillman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 3:22 pm

Sorry about the baseball, but a great excursion nonetheless.

Last time I was at the Grand Canyon and Zion, I got snowed on, but that was in March.

I’m hoping that today’s residents of AZ, NM, UT and CO don’t have to resort to cannibalism, like the Anasazi. My brother lives in Mesa.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 4:58 pm

Yeah, Sedona and the meteor crater is highly recommended (by me). One can get a bit thirsty, but Sedona has the appropriate watering holes (as we say bye bye to Mr Covid).

Reply to  philincalifornia
May 17, 2021 7:06 pm

Sedona is beautiful – and the dining is almost all fantastic.

Very nice to visit, but I would end up cold-cocking some of the wealthy Marxist residents. (Jerome is just as far gone to the Left – but they aren’t wealthy, and are actually fun to watch…)

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 2:49 pm

Rud, They still build on cherry picking isolated conditions, conflating them together, and projecting them to a much greater area than that from which they’ve drawn data. Wild claims by academics (these guys are, sadly, engineers) are in search of funding. No one is responsible for failure or lack of detail. No one can be held accountable for any damage caused by using or being informed by what these people claim. Not even their universities will suffer credibility loss unless they can be proved as academic frauds — but they make only generalized claims.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  dk_
May 17, 2021 3:19 pm

I agree with your upthread comments. That is why a few days ago I posted ‘Climate Reflections’ advocating using Alinsky Rules on these climate radical types, main rule being ridicule. They won’t feel it at their unis, but maybe via their social media.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 4:36 pm

I’m big on an Alinsky flip as a tactic and applaud your effort. My preference would be to let scientists debate and disprove each other, and leave the ridicule tactic for performers, media, and politicians, but these three are typical of the sort that cross the line, parlaying some part of their Universities’ credibility into their own idealogical propaganda. You are probably right, but I don’t have a good feeling about it.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 20, 2021 1:58 pm

One thing to do is employ their word-changing (in this case, factual). Since everything they have and do is now tied w/the government/corporate “machine”, prefix every one of their operations/organizations with “corporate”. Ex. corporate media/social media, corporate education/universities, corporate politics, corporate government/government-tied organizations, corporate legal system, corporate BLM, corporate Antifa, corporate voting system, etc, etc.

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Reply to  beng135
May 21, 2021 9:48 am

Almost missed this suggestion. Good idea beng135.

May 17, 2021 2:32 pm

Nothing like this has ever happened in all of recorded history! Oh, yea, it happens all the time throughout recorded history in that region. Another case of “dog bites man, man says ouch” yet again.

May 17, 2021 2:50 pm

Here’s the answer. Build a coal slurry pipeline from the Columbia River basin to Phx. This would feed water to a high demand drought area and coal for reliable power.

John Tillman
Reply to  ResourceGuy
May 17, 2021 3:04 pm

The Pacific NW has ten senators; 12 if you count AK, who would back us. The SW has always failed to grab our water. We do however send them hydropower in the summer when they need it, and they return the favor with fossil fuel, nuke power and unreliables in the winter.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 17, 2021 4:17 pm

Xi would do it with fewer approvals.

May 17, 2021 2:50 pm

From the NOAA

Precipitation data,

Southwest Region shows no trend since 2000 LINK

Northwest Region Shows no trend since 2000 LINK

West Region Shows no trend since 2000 LINK

The data is calling them a liar about droughts since there is no decline of Precipitation in the entire west region..

Last edited 1 year ago by Sunsettommy
Chris Hanley
May 17, 2021 2:54 pm

I dare say for instance Colorado is no warmer today than it was in the 1930s and drought conditions are cyclical but demographic changes no doubt are a contributing factor and there may be some influence from global ‘human activities like the burning of fossil fuels’.
Improved adaption measures would be the rational response but the underlying message in articles like this is that somehow the ‘Green New Deal’ will make a difference.

John Tillman
Reply to  Chris Hanley
May 17, 2021 3:00 pm

California has likewise enjoyed no warming since records were first kept there, outside of urban heat islands. That’s despite irrigation in dry rural areas. The state’s record high remains in 1913, which is why NOAA set up a second Death Valley station, facing a cliff with southern exposure.

Hence, wildfires there can’t be due to “global warming”.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Tillman
May 17, 2021 3:13 pm

Water is a valuable resource in the western US. Droughts make life more difficult, but this can be somewhat mitigated with dams storing water in reservoirs during wet years and using groundwater more during the La Niña dry years.

It’s a shame greenies are vehemently against more dams which not only provide better ability to manage water shortages but also generate electricity.

I’m surprised Biden’s multi trillion dollar “infrastructure” plan doesn’t include projects to move fresh water from Mississippi River to the west and enable the desert to bloom even during times of drought. No, that would help too many red states. Best to build useless solar farms in sunless blue states instead 🙂

Reply to  RelPerm
May 17, 2021 4:27 pm

Why not use windmills and solar to power desalination plants?

John Tillman
Reply to  AWG
May 17, 2021 4:46 pm

Unreliable and low power, but still possible.

Rick W Kargaard
Reply to  AWG
May 19, 2021 6:50 am

Yes, rather than building costly storage just divert excesses to desalination. Certainly intermittent use of desalination plants would be no more costly than something like battery storage. What do the engineers here think.

Reply to  Rick W Kargaard
May 20, 2021 2:06 pm

Problem is it’s almost impossible to build new pipelines & even new major transmission lines anywhere now, Nimbies and other corporate enviro-n*zi orgs protest/sue every effort & are backed by their EPA sycophants.

John Bell
May 17, 2021 3:23 pm

I thought CC was supposed to bring more rain, unless it does not, and then that is CC too. Natch…

Steve Harford
May 17, 2021 3:26 pm

According to Denver CBS the maps on this article became completely obsolete in the last 6 days:

Reply to  Steve Harford
May 17, 2021 3:56 pm

That would be my expectation and it’s still raining. Big floods have occurred around the end of May and we could be setting up for something like that.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Scissor
May 18, 2021 7:01 am

The big flash flood that hit Cherry and Plum creeks and the South Platte, that knocked out a lot of the bridges across the river in Denver happened in June 1965.

Kevin kilty
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
May 18, 2021 1:51 pm

I lived in the Denver Metro from 1982-1992 and june was always a scary month for hail and floods. In June 1965 my grandfather had his race horses at Centennial Race Park ruined by that flood. Our trainer waded and swam into the flooded stables to bring horses out on a string before they could be drowned. He was a very calm and brave fellow.

Reply to  Steve Harford
May 20, 2021 2:08 pm

CO front-range area looks alot better recently.

May 17, 2021 3:34 pm

The world would be better if we mined water.
The Chinese mine 4 billion tons of coal each year.
The problem with mining coal is shipping it. And problem with mining water would be shipping
it. Too expensive to mine water as one mines coal.
The amount of water to mine per year would “need” to be around 100 billion tons of water
per year. Or 1 million tons per year is a waste of time. But 1 million tons delivered somewhere could be worth $1 million dollars, and needed as much a 1 billion tons, $1 billion dollars. And amount of water used in US each year {for various uses- and much of it used for
residential use] is about 600 billion tons of water, and cost/price of that used water is much lower than 600 billion dollars per year. Water is expensive if not coming out the tap and expensive when there is shortage and one need to ration it.
One say the sole purpose of mining water would be so water doesn’t need to be rationed And getting water where it’s needed. Or having a brown lawn is a huge cost. Living in drought conditions is like going to war- expensive and require sacrifices {having people make sacrifices, could be seen as noble thing, but making people sacrifice is not noble, at all.
Wars are always due to incompetency, roughly all politicans do is blame things other things other than their obvious gross stupidity. And this explains why politicans like to talk about climate change {they won’t held responsible for their evil neglect of governing in the interest of the public they serve].
So mining water would concerning to have a market for getting water where it’s needed. And not competing in the market where people can get as much water from faucet whenever and however much they want. It’s could said to be emergency use of water from point of view people who normally can easily get water. But also most people in the world can not easily get any amount water they need and/or they could want to use more, but can’t waste water.
So other brown lawns, one has farmland can’t used in a season to lack water to use.
And this could include crazy and unreasonable use of water, the question is would want to use water if cost $1 million dollars for 1 million tons.
So a million tons is square km and 1 meter deep or 100 meter cube of water. Or in terms of shipping water, 100 meter wide and 1000 meter long and 10 meter deep. Or 2 million being
100 meter wide, 1 km long and 20 meter deep- that would a fairly big ship. But don’t need a big ship, you could just drag/pull ice. And issue is making “ships” of ice, in remote location which doesn’t the low cost of making any kind ship in a shipyard- having access to needed infrastructure, labor force, and electrical power, etc.
One aspect of this could involve using robotic rather having to make “town” for people who
work in such remote location {and be paid a lot for having to endure this “rough living environment”]. Smaller amount people and perhaps large portion of them working via teleoperations- they stay where they living, and only “a small town needed” at location.
Or similar situations of working on oil platform- with even less people and having more remote.
It seems main reason it wouldn’t happen is due to political and legal issues, and in terms technology a critical part of it, would be having nuclear powered tugs.

Reply to  gbaikie
May 17, 2021 4:10 pm

Recycling of water makes sense in some instances. The thought might be a little unpleasant, but the technology to recycle urine into drinking water is fairly routine.

Reply to  Scissor
May 17, 2021 6:36 pm

There no reason humans should drink it, and humans should get much better drinking water than they are getting. I would guess only 10% of US population gets drinking water which actually drinkable- though maybe good enough to shower in.
People should be able to get grey water, drinking water, hot water, and water good enough to clean with. That would indicate a respectable civilization- and there not many of these.

The Dark Lord
Reply to  gbaikie
May 17, 2021 8:47 pm

no need to mine water … just don’t dump 2/3 of what you catch into the ocean …

Rud Istvan
May 17, 2021 3:41 pm

A second main comment, very different from the first.
How can, in the internet era, these three professors publish such easily disproven drivel, as WUWT did in about an hour, multiple times? I continue to explore possible warmunist disinformation root causes. Some possibilities:

  1. They have a joint grant proposal to NSF to ‘study’ 2021 wildfires in relation to their now published 2021 drought paper. Follow the money.
  2. They are coming up for tenure. Publish or perish. Here, publish then perish at WUWT, but never at their unis or in MSM.
  3. Their states have legalized marijuana, and they were all high.
  4. 1+2+3. Yup. Reverse Occam’s Razor logic works best on the illogical.
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 18, 2021 7:31 am
  1. They are on student visas they don’t want revoked.
Steve Z
May 17, 2021 4:32 pm

Blame it on La Nina. Here in Utah, it has been unusually dry since about April of 2020, and so far in May we’ve only received about a quarter of the normal rainfall, with March, April, and May normally being the wettest months. There’s still snow on the summits of the Wasatch Mountains, but possibly not enough to allow lawns to be watered all summer.

However, the eastern slopes of the Rockies have received above-normal precipitation, including lots of snow in Denver in April. There have been lots of cold fronts coming south across the Great Plains this past winter, but such fronts tend to get stalled along the Rockies, and if they move west, the downsloping winds on the west side of the Rockies tends to dry out the air, which results in less precipitation along the west slopes, and more along the east slopes.

In an El Nino winter, there are more storms moving across central California, which bring more moisture to the western Rockies, while the eastern slopes get the downsloping winds and dry air.

But this is a good time to convince the greenies and the delta smelt lovers that more dams are needed to save water from wet years for use in dry years. The ancient Romans used aqueducts to send snowmelt from the Alps and Appian Mountains to cities along the Mediterranean during their hot, dry summers. The early settlers in Utah built canals running crosswise to streams from the mountains, to slow down the flow of spring runoff to irrigate their crops in summer. There’s even a story in the Bible about Joseph telling Pharaoh to save the harvests from seven years of plenty to feed Egypt during seven years of crop failures.

So if people live in an area which has frequent droughts, why can’t they do as the Romans did?

May 17, 2021 5:13 pm

I thought droughts were associated with cooling climates. More moisture locked up in polar regions. If the Earth was warming, it seems to me, there would be more moisture in the air. I have lived in Panama and been subjected to super humid morning air, only to be cooled by afternoon rains.

Jim Steele
May 17, 2021 5:22 pm

These climate fear mongers are just regurgitating the same garbage.

““We used to call it fire season, but wildland fires now extend throughout the entire year, burning hotter and growing more catastrophic in drier conditions due to climate change,” Vilsack said.”

But they dont share the science that it is due to human ignitions that fire season is expanding, not climate change

Nor do they mention how droughts in the west are tied to La Ninas.

 John Abatzoglou is the worse, building a career by fear mongering wildfires and climate

WIldfire ignitions BAlch 2017.png
Last edited 1 year ago by Jim Steele
May 17, 2021 5:23 pm

Warm spring? Its May 17 and my house heater is still running. It usually stops running by mid April. I’m at the coast so its not like it’s frozen, but this spring has been cool compared to other years. The fruit trees agree with me, they were all blooming late this year as well.

So apparently, The Conversation writers were not located in my area as they are not aware of what they are talking about.

Jim Steele
May 17, 2021 5:26 pm

They also falsely blame warming. The key temperature metric for fire danger is maximum temperatures. Not minimums or average temps

The Mendocino Complex Fire was California’s largest fire (since 1932) until last year’s. In July of 2018 it burned 459,000 acres. The source of human ignitions is still under investigation. Still, those fires were centered around the town of Ukiah which also reveals a cooling trend since 1930.—horrific-journalism-misrepresent.html

Ukia Max. temp. .png
Last edited 1 year ago by Jim Steele
May 17, 2021 5:33 pm

And so another drought season begins in California with reservoir levels at 51%. The blame game will begin with CC taking top honors, agriculture coming in second, businesses third, and private use/property last. The government will be only mentioned in passing despite being the entity that has the most clout to do something about it. Hedge funds receiving outrageous returns from bonds paid for by the people will build desalination plants but only provide a small percentage of the need at a cost many times the going rate. And by the time they are built they will not be needed and mothballed. California will continue its’ open border/sanctuary practices and make matters worse. Rain and snow pack will materialize and everything will be forgotten until the next dry spell. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Peter Morris
May 17, 2021 5:46 pm

Well maybe if Iowa didn’t keep insisting on growing corn all the time, they wouldn’t need to keep pumping out massive amounts of water to grow it in a place it doesn’t want to grow.

But I don’t ever see these “brave” scientists speaking that truth to power. They’re too busy telling me my car and cheeseburgers are the problem.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Peter Morris
May 17, 2021 6:42 pm

Peter, you apparently made a factual mistake. You must be referring to the ‘pumping out’ of central pivot irrigation from the somewhat depleting in some places Ogallala reservoir. But if, then you have also confused Iowa with Nebraska. Not a good start. Get your facts straight here, or you will be eviscerated always.

May 17, 2021 7:39 pm

Yep, growing up in California every year was declared a high fire danger year. After wet winters, the rain caused increased grass and brush growth vulnerable to fire during the normally dry summers. After dry winters, the dry summers made fires easy to start and expand. Remember, there is commonly no rain from June through August in most of the state. The Chumash burned much of the coastal mountain area every year for millennia to improve water availability and to increase the availability of deer and bear for hunting.

Vincent Causey
May 17, 2021 11:37 pm

I thought global warming meant wetter, with all that extra water vapour. Cold climates are very dry.

May 18, 2021 2:25 am

“Rising global temperatures also play several roles in drought”
But… but… the climate change cluckers have been telling us global warming wll cause more rain and more floods,,,which is it? I’m sooooooo confused.

Reply to  spock
May 18, 2021 1:22 pm

It’s going to rain so much that it dries everything out…

Bruce Cobb
May 18, 2021 4:31 am

The Climate Liars really need to get their story straight. Is it “Global Warming” or is it “Climate Change”, or is it the “Climate Crisis”? They can’t seem to decide, and so bounce from one to the other. It sends a confusing mixed-message to the Believers, which creates cognitive dissonance. Now it’s true that the True Believers have developed finely-honed coping strategies, but still, that creates stress. The Climate Liars need to give the Believers a break! I’m not suggesting that they actually tell the truth (God forbid), just that they make the messaging more succinct. Think of the Believers!

Thomas Gasloli
May 18, 2021 8:59 am

This article is focused on the wrong issue.

Instead of worrying about CA, people should be worried that the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, MI are in drought, and it is spreading to Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana. A drought in all of this agricultural area already in May doesn’t look promising for grain, etc.

Drought in “fly over country” is far more important than wild fires in the neighborhood of Hollywood & Silicon Valley billionaires.

May 18, 2021 10:58 am

Here in NC I’m hearing talk of a drought – this coming after a year so wet literally everything I tried to grow died from the flooding, at a time when all the local ponds are the highest I’ve ever seen them. And we’re still getting rain on a regular basis.

I’m beginning to question what they mean by “drought”.

May 18, 2021 11:28 am

The West Coast is in drought because the Hadley cells in the Pacific kept directing the storms north into Alaska/Canada all through the fall and into the winter. This picture is from 10/29/2020, and is a good example of how the process worked.

earth Pacific 10 29 20.png
Stephen Skinner
May 18, 2021 1:33 pm

That drought stricken region which is shown as dark red? Isn’t that desert?

Kevin kilty
May 18, 2021 1:44 pm

Ah! The Conversation, is it? Droughty conditions often turn moderate or even to wet in the west in short order. When I started graduate school in Utah in the mid-1970s we were in the midst of a drought so severe we were told that it would take a decade to refill reservoirs. Six months later they were spilling water from those reservoirs.

But those were the old days, and these days we have climate change. Nothing it doesn’t do.

George R Brown
May 18, 2021 6:34 pm

This map is WAY out of date. Central Texas is getting 3 or more inches a day.

Jim Whelan
May 19, 2021 10:13 am

That’s the climate in the Southwestern US: Periods of drought separated by years of high precipitation. Some of the droughts are worse than others. Been like that for millennia.

May 20, 2021 1:29 pm

Vapor pressure deficit? That’s a new one.

George R Brown
May 20, 2021 7:45 pm

These are more manipulated data. Texas has been getting loads of rain, even in the high western plains.

RS In Az
May 22, 2021 4:31 pm

Meanwhile in Arizona, the snow falls today, ignoring the drought….

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