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

    Pentagon: Afghan Hospital Bombing Not a War Crime

    US Central Command's Joseph Votel says probe found tragedy was result of 'extraordinarily intense situation' that included multiple equipment failures

    US Minorities Link Guns with Other Social Ills

    New study finds reduction in gun violence could help lower America’s incarceration rate – the world’s highest - and improve relationships between police, citizens in minority communities

    Speeding Causes Spike in Deaths on South African Roads

    At least 14,000 people die each year from country’s traffic-related incidents; authorities criticized on issues of safety, legal enforcement

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkey Islamists

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora