Droughts in the Southwest Could Be More Severe, Longer Lasting

Mar 14, 2016

A recently released study suggests droughts in the southwest could last longer and have more severe impacts in the future.  The study, performed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), compared 35 years of observational data to existing climate models.

NCAR Scientist Andreas Prein is the lead author of the study.  "To see this drying in the southwest from both sources gives a large confidence in that this is really happening and this can get more severe over time," he says.

The study shows, in part, that future droughts could be more severe due to a changing baseline.

Anjuli Bamzai, Director of the Climate and Large-Scale Dynamics Program at the National Science Foundation, a sponsoring organization of the study, says the frequency of different weather patterns has shifted.  "There's been a subtle shift over a time period," she says.  "It's almost like a new normal, so to speak."

Weather systems that usually bring moisture to the U.S. Southwest are forming less often.
Credit Andreas Prein / NCAR

"The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States," says Prein.

Based on the findings, Prein says Colorado specifically could face difficulties with water management in the future.  The NSF's Bamzai also says the implications for southern Colorado are more complex due to the region's diverse terrain, but that the study improves the overall understanding of drought in the southwest.