Drought Conditions Predicted Worst in Years for the West

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What is going on with this crazy heat wave were having out West. Arizona, California, Oregon and now the Pacific North West. Western Canada is also predicted to have the worst drought conditions in years. So what is causing this crazy weather. Is it Climate Change or maybe just a cycle were in?

The western part of America and Canada has always been dryer than the rest of the country in the summer months. I mean look at Nevada. One could cook on the sidewalk during the summer. California wild fires have been raging for years. Every year it seems to be getting a little worse. This year looks especially bad. So what is happening?

California's Dissappearing Water

Houseboats on the shrinking Lake Oroville reservoir in California last month.

Above is one of California’s biggest water reservoir’s. 100s of house boats are being removed from the lake because there is simply not enough water.

California’s Dissappearing Water

The food grown in California depends on these reservoir’s. Without out them America’s food belt could be in jeopardy.

Lake Oroville helps water a quarter of the nation’s crops. We are talking about 25% of America’s food chain. Water levels are predicted to fall even farther this year. This mighty lake is shrinking with surprising speed. A severe drought this year which is predicted could cause food shortages across the country.

California's Dissappearing Water

Levels of the water in the lake are dropping fast. With no end to the drought in sight it is not looking good for California and it’s food supplies. Unless there is a sudden change in the weather patterns or new ways to find water the corn belt could be lost this year.

Canada’s Drought Predictions

The western United States is not the only area expected to have a hotter than usual summer. Canada is also predicted to have a hotter than normal summer out west. This is not good news for the BC and Alberta fire fighters. Hot weather with little rain is the worst possible news. It seems year after year the fires have been getting worse in western Canada. Whole towns have been devastated and mass evacuations a normal event.

This year it is especially disconcerting. Prairie provinces such as Saskatchewan are expected to have an unusually hot and dry summer. The Prairies – A hot summer is expected across much of the region. Worsening drought conditions are a major concern for agriculture across southern parts of the Prairies. Predictions of drought across the entire food belt of both Canada and the US is not good news.

Livestock depend on corn and grain and shortages could drive food prices much higher. Already high food prices are occurring because of the lock downs and blockages around the world. Ships with containers are already spending many more hours than normal waiting to load and unload. Combine all this together and there could be trouble ahead.

Heat Wave Threats

We just could be in for one of the hottest summers in a long time. Everywhere you turn you see predictions of hotter than usual weather. Hot weather means a couple of things. Forest Fires and droughts. One might look back at the 1930’s. That particular decade was the worst in many years for droughts.

Dust bowls on the prairies were common. Once fertile bearing fields of wheat and corn were now giant dust storms. Entire food crops were wiped out by the droughts. Could this happen again. Of course it could. After all doesn’t history repeat. Where does water come from? Nature of course.

If Mother Nature decides she doesn’t want to rain there is not much one can do.

Threats Posed by Extreme Heat

Extreme heat can increase the risk of other types of disasters. Heat can exacerbate  and hot dry conditions can in turn create wildfire conditions. In cities, buildings roads and infrastructure can be heated more than the air while natural surfaces remain closer to air temperatures.

Heat island effect is most intense during the day, but the slow release of heat from the infrastructure overnightcan keep cities much hotter than surrounding areas.  Rising temperatures across the country poses a threat to people, ecosystems and the economy.

Human Health

Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States.Killing more than all other impacts (except hurricanes) combined. The database compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists heat waves as four of the top 10 deadliest U.S. disasters since 1980.

Normally, the body can cool itself through sweating, but when humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly. This leads to heat stroke. High humidity and elevated nighttime temperatures are likely key ingredients in causing heat-related illness and mortality. When there’s no break from the heat at night, it can cause discomfort and lead to health problems, especially for those who are low income or elderly, if access to cooling is limited.

Hot days are also associated with increases in heat-related illnesses including cardiovascular and respiratory complications, kidney disease, and can be especially harmful to outdoor workers, children, the elderly, and low-income households.

In extreme temperatures, air quality is also affected. Hot and sunny days can increase ozone levels, which in turn affects NOX levels. In addition, greater use of heating and cooling of indoor spaces requires more electricity and, depending on the electricity source, can  emit more of other types of pollution, including particulates. These increases in ozone and particulate matter can pose serious risks to people, particularly the same vulnerable groups directly impacted by heat mentioned above.

Agriculture

High temperatures at night can be particularly damaging to agriculture. Heat stress for livestock rises when  Heat-stressed cattle can experience declines in milk production, slower growth, and reduced conception rates.

Energy

While higher summer temperatures increase electricity demand for cooling, at the same time, it also can lower the ability of transmission lines to carry power, possibly leading to electricity reliability issues during heat waves. Although warmer winters will reduce the need for heating, modeling suggests that total U.S. energy use will increase in a warmer future. In addition, as rivers and lakes warm, their capacity for absorbing waste heat from power plants declines. This can reduce the thermal efficiency of power production, which makes it difficult for power plants to comply with environmental regulations regarding their cooling water.

How to Build Resilience

  • A set of strategies to build resilience to extreme heat are laid out in our publication, “Resilience Strategies for Extreme Heat.” Some strategies include:
    • Creating heat preparedness plans, identifying vulnerable populations, and opening cooling centers during extreme heat.
    • Installing cool and green roofs and cool pavement to reduce the urban heat island effect.
    • Planting trees to provide shade and evapotranspiration cools the air around trees.
    • Pursuing energy efficiency to reduce demand on the electricity grid, especially during heat waves.

Opinion

Well it just seems every year just keeps getting worse. Looking out the window in southern BC seeking the smoke from the fires is quite alarming. There was a time not too long ago when one could spend a summer night upon the porch without having smoke in their eyes.

Fires roaring out of control both south of the border and far to the north. Elderly people choking on the polluted air finding it hard to breathe. Is this our future. Will we all have to have oxygen just to survive the summers. Maybe!

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