News / Science & Technology

US Drought Linked to Climate Change

Rosanne Skirble
As one of the worst droughts ever continues to grip major portions of the United States, a new study links this summer’s record-setting dry spell, and other extreme weather events, to the world’s warming climate.   
    
Parched earth

In Texas, the earth is parched. Rivers have dried up, and pasture land has turned brown from the heat. It’s been this way since January 2011. The southwestern state is the fourth largest producer of rice in the United States but the drought could cut production by half.

"Our total agri-income, farm gate value of our commodities here, were usually right around $290 million, and a large percentage of that comes from rice production," Texas agricultural extension agent Peter McGuill says. "You’re talking about a big chunk of money that’s not going to be circulating within the economy.”

James Bradbury, a climate scientist with the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank, explains that La Nina, a natural weather pattern that periodically cools the Pacific Ocean, helped trigger the drought by bringing warmer, dryer weather to the American South, which has been hardest hit by the drought.
US Drought Linked to Climate Change
US Drought Linked to Climate Changei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“Time will tell the extent to which rising temperatures and global climate change contributed to this specific event and the severity of it," Bradbury says. "I think there is a good likelihood that the temperatures that we’re seeing and the heat wave that we’re seeing is all consistent with a warmer world, that that's exacerbating these drought conditions."

Human influence

Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring team for the Met Office Hadley Centre, a climate research institution in southwest Britain, says La Nina is only part of the story. He co-authored the American Meteorological Society study which links climate change with the Texas drought and other extreme weather events.   

“We did find clear evidence for human influence on the Texas heat wave and also in the very unusual temperatures we had in the United Kingdom in 2011,” he says.  
 
The study finds the 2011 Texas drought was 20 times more likely to occur than in the 1960s as a result of human-induced climate changing emissions in the atmosphere. The heat wave last November in England was 62 times more likely to have occurred than 50 years ago, according to the report.  

While not all extreme weather events can be linked to climate change, Stott and his colleagues found evidence that they are more probable in a warmer world.

“What we must remember is that it is the combination of natural variations of climate that is important here," Stott says. "We saw that in La Nina in Texas, but, over and above that, there is this additional climate effect that can and has indeed in the last year led to a greater vulnerability to extreme weather.”

Worsening conditions

Drought continues to parch other parts of the U.S., sparking wildfires and damaging crops in one third of the nation’s counties. U.S. scientists predict that these conditions could even get worse in the coming months, which doesn’t bode well for Iowa farmer Tom Zaputil’s corn crop, which hasn’t had a significant rain since June.

"This here is strictly dryness here," Zaputil says, referring to his crop. "These stalks will cannibalize themselves to pull moisture out of it in order to feed that ear, and these will get brittle and very susceptible to high wind damage later on in the season.”

Stott says the new findings are a wake-up call that the adverse impact of a warming climate can be reduced by acting now to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from cars, factories and buildings.

“So hopefully people can understand the implication of future climate change and relate that to what’s happening at the moment.”

Stott says the study is the first of what he hopes will be annual reports examining the connection between global warming and specific extreme weather events.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs