About Drought: What Science Tells us About Wet and Dry in a Warming World

June 26, 2021

As historic drought and heat settle in across the American west, people are paying attention, so I’m pulling out some of my interviews and media grabs from the last decade.

Key point: think of the atmosphere as a sponge – it likes to soak up water.
Physics tells us that warmer air can hold more moisture.

So a warmer atmosphere is like a bigger, thirstier sponge. When dry spells come, they can become more intense more quickly, as the atmosphere pulls more moisture out of rivers, lakes, streams, and the soil.
When wet spells come, there is more moisture to wring out of the sponge, so more intense precipitation – of any kind, – can come down in a shorter period.

On this page, clarification from Kevin Trenberth, Jonathan Overpeck, and others.

Below, NASA’s Benjamin Cook in a CNN interview from 2016. He mentions that the then-current conditions – a dry spell that covered from about 2011 to 2016 – were probably the worst in a thousand years, which I heard from more than one researcher at the time.

Conditions now are worse.

Below, Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen=Gammon.

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