Climate Program Office News

Megadrought in southwestern North America and implications for the Colorado River

Megadrought in southwestern North America and implications for the Colorado River

Recent research published in Science has shown that anthropogenic warming is leading to an emerging megadrought in southwestern North America. On May 27, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) will host a webinar presented by John Fleck, Director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, who will take a look at the implications of this megadrought on the Colorado River Basin, on which 40 million people depend. As the Colorado River Basin experiences 2020’s “sneaky drought” amid a long term pattern that looks increasingly like a megadrought, water managers are working on ways to adapt. Where are we seeing success, and which communities are vulnerable? The webinar will help answer these questions.

NIDIS held a Webinar on May 13 with Park Williams, the lead author of the Science article, that provides an overview of this research. Key takeaways included: 

  • 2000-2018 had the driest 19-year average summer soil moisture on record for the southwestern North American study region.

  • 2000-2018 soil moisture followed a trajectory similar to the onset of the medieval megadroughts, but the megadroughts were longer.

  • The researchers estimate anthropogenic climate trends account for 47% of the 2000-2018 drought severity. Uncertainty is high due to poorly understood precipitation and vegetation processes.

Register for the May 27 webinar »

Watch the May 13 webinar »



About the Climate Program Office

The Climate Program Office (CPO) manages competitive research programs in which NOAA funds high-priority climate science, assessments, decision support research, outreach, education, and capacity-building activities designed to advance our understanding of Earth’s climate system, and to foster the application of this knowledge in risk management and adaptation efforts.  CPO-supported research is conducted in regions across the United States, at national and international scales, and globally.  Learn more...

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Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather.