When I think about the word drought, it triggers images of farmers standing in the barren fields of the Dust Bowl with endless blue skies and no sign of a cloud, the steaming landscape of the Western United States.
Or I just think about present-day California suffering through the depths of a four-year drought—the worst one they have ever faced.
I have never been to California myself, but I’ve been thirsty. That moment when I have to literally peel my tongue from the roof of my cotton ball mouth. Throat is dry, scratching. No water fountain in sight. No sink. Not even a puddle to lap from.
Rivers in the West are shrinking. They shrivel in on themselves, pulling away from the banks. The riverbeds are gnarled scars. Lakes drain as if someone pulled the plug, letting the water slip away.
Westerners watch the lakes and rivers and faucets with a nervous eye. Maybe Californians shake their fists at the sun-soaked skies and dance for the rain that probably won’t come because things have changed.
For many years climate scientists, including those involved in the IPCC reports, have projected an increase in intensity and regularity of droughts as the atmosphere warms (section 26.8.1 in the current IPCC report).
California’s drought is an example of the projection above. The warming atmosphere caused this strange high-pressure ridge to form off the coast in the Pacific. The ridge is pushing moisture away from California, deflecting it like a sprinkler caught on a rock—rain on one side, and none for California.