Western US Suffering From Harsh Drought
Dry weather is causing problems for farmers and other residents.
By: Laura Valkovic | May 13, 2022 | 697 Words
The United States is a large country, which means distant regions might be experiencing different weather events at any time. While the northeast has had heavy snow recently, the western part of the nation is experiencing a severe drought.
Droughts are defined as periods of time when an area experiences less precipitation than normal. Precipitation is water falling from the sky – normally this means rain, but it also includes snow, sleet, and hail. While many natural disasters or weather events are sudden – like hurricanes or tornadoes – droughts carry on for a long time and may have no obvious beginning or end. They may be as short as a few weeks, or they could last for years. It can also be hard to figure out the cause of a drought but right now, the US is experiencing La Niña, a climate event that normally leads to dry weather in the southwestern states.
The dry conditions and lack of rain can lead to a range of problems, such as wildfires, failed crops, and a general shortage of water.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than one-fifth of the land in western states is suffering from “extreme or exceptional” drought. Conditions are worst in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico.
Some western states have been experiencing severe fires recently. New Mexico is the location of the biggest wildfire currently in the US. The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon blaze has been burning for over a month, with two smaller fires joining into one big one. Since the forest land has been so dry, the fire grew quickly, burning more than 370 square miles. High winds have also been a problem for firefighters.
“This is definitely a remarkable wind event fighting this fire and it’s not showing like it’s going to slow down,” says Ryan Berlin, a fire information officer. “We don’t have any predicted moisture coming in over the next seven to ten days … So we need a little help from Mother Nature to shut the wind down, and a little rain.”
More than 1,800 firefighters and other staff are working to extinguish the blaze.
At the same time, smaller fires are burning in other regions of New Mexico, and neighboring state Arizona.
Another state under drought conditions now is California. While the region is known for dry conditions, a drought can cause problems as the state grows about one-third of the nation’s vegetables, plus two-thirds of its fruit and nuts.
When it comes to farming, too much rain or too little rain can cause problems for crops. A lot of farms use irrigation, bringing water in which can be used via pipes or sprinkler systems. However, if there is a water shortage, farms can struggle to get water, or pay extra for it.
The drought is affecting California’s rice crop. Rice takes a lot of water to grow, since the plants have to be flooded after the seeds are planted. For some farms, there isn’t enough water available to grow the crop this year.
Don Cameron, general manager of Terranova Ranch in Helm, California, said:
“There are a lot of empty fields that aren’t being planted — something I’ve never seen before. We’re seeing a lot of the almonds that have been planted over the years being taken out just because of the lack of water. I know in Northern California, there’s normally a 500,000 acres of rice, and we know that 270,000 to 300,000 acres will not be produced this year.”
The local government has reduced the amount of water farmers are allowed to take from reservoirs, to save water for other uses, like drinking. Restrictions have been introduced for other residents too, with people being asked not to water their gardens more than one or two days per week. The Vallecitos Water District has also told restaurants not to serve water to customers unless they ask for it, and hotels to ask guests permission to have their towels washed less often.