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Southwest Megadrought: Last 2 Decades Were Driest In 1,200 Years

But dry conditions returned in 2020 and intensified through 2022. The year 2021 was about as dry as 2002, which was drier than any other year for more than three centuries.
Sean de Guzman takes a sample of the snowpack on Feb. 1 near Twin Bridges, Calif. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Sean de Guzman takes a sample of the snowpack on Feb. 1 near Twin Bridges, Calif. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A “megadrought” that grips the Southwest has broken another record, according to a new study. The last 22 years now rank as the driest such period since at least 800 AD, with human emissions of greenhouse gases accounting for about 42% of the drought’s severity.

The big picture: The new study updates findings from research published in 2020 that found evidence for the first partially human-caused megadrought in the Southwest, but noted that a drought in the 1500s rivaled its intensity and duration. That is no longer the case, the new research shows.

Driving the news: The study looks closely at the 2000 to 2021 period and finds that across southwestern North America, this period was the hottest and driest stretch since at least 1901.

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