As world warms, droughts come on faster, study finds

By | April 15, 2023

The New York Times reports:

Flash droughts, the kind that arrive quickly and can lay waste to crops in a matter of weeks, are becoming more common and faster to develop around the world, and human-caused climate change is a major reason, a new scientific study has found.

As global warming continues, more abrupt dry spells could have grave consequences for people in humid regions whose livelihoods depend on rain-fed agriculture. The study found that flash droughts occurred more often than slower ones in parts of tropical places like India, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon basin.

But “even for slow droughts, the onset speed has been increasing,” said Xing Yuan, a hydrologist at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China and lead author of the new study, which was published Thursday in Science. In other words, droughts of all kinds are coming on more speedily, straining forecasters’ ability to anticipate them and communities’ ability to cope.

The world has probably always experienced rapid-onset droughts, but only in the past decade or two have they become a significant focus of scientific research. New data sources and advances in computer modeling have allowed scientists to home in on the complex physical processes behind them. The concept also gained attention in 2012 after a severe drought charged across the United States, ravaging farm fields and pastures and causing over $30 billion in losses, most of them in agriculture. [Continue reading…]