The drought plaguing the American West is the worst in 1,200 years

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Scientists already had a pretty good idea that things have been about as dry as can be out west for a while now. The region has been experiencing a “megadrought” that dates back to the start of the century. In 2020, researchers dubbed it the worst drought in 500 years, in a paper published in the journal Science.

Things have only gotten worse since then. In the last two years, the region already bereft of rainfall saw record-setting heatwaves — including a new high for hottest temperature ever recorded and a devastating heat dome that literally started to melt infrastructure — along with out of control wildfires, shrinking water reservoirs, and dwindling supplies of natural water sources. With a full record of the last two decades, scientists concluded that the West’s ongoing drought is the worst since at least 800 A.D.

Researchers and climate scientists examined moisture levels in soils collected from a wide stretch of the American West, ranging from up north in Montana to areas of northern Mexico, out west toward the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and eastbound to the Rocky Mountains. Those samples — along with tree ring samples, which appear closer together during dry periods — helped to paint a picture of this modern drought and those of the past. Unfortunately, our current situation does not compare favorably to history.


A new study has found that the current 20-year drought is the worst dry period in recorded history.  Shutterstock



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