The drought across the country continues to ignite wildfires and early warnings of future water shortages
What are usually fields of green and skies of blue are currently fields of yellow and skies of gray.
Much of the western U.S. is approaching, or is in, what scientists call a megadrought similar to some that have occurred over the past 100 years according to a recent article in the New York Times.
For the week of Aug. 18, 2021 to Aug. 24, 2021, the drought monitor shows 47.33% of the lower 48 U.S. states in drought and 75.7 million people are feeling its effects.
224.2 million acres of crops are experiencing drought conditions, and Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is reporting its lowest levels ever. The drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West and even the Northern Plains, including our state of North Dakota.
According to USNews, the state of N.D. is facing conditions it hasn’t seen since the early 2000s. Currently, 91% of the state is experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions. However, it may surprise you to know that N.D.’s annual precipitation is increasing according to Steven Traver, an Associate Professor at NDSU.
“North Dakota is actually seeing an increase of precipitation even though it may be hard to believe,” Traver said. “However, there is also an increase in the variance of it. Sometimes we may have way too much rain, or we could go months without a single drop. This variation is predicted to cause more floods in the spring time.”
The New York Times reported that ranchers in N.D. are “trucking water and supplemental feed for their livestock because the rangelands are so dry and the vegetation is stunted.”
The continuation of the drought into next year depends on how much snow falls this winter. Some farmers say that if a good amount of snow doesn’t come our way, next year will make this year look easy.
Droughts are a normal part of life in the western region and occur regularly throughout the centuries. However, scientists say that climate change, in the form of warming temperatures and shifts in precipitation, is making the situation much worse and what would be a drought in a moderate world is now severe.
“North Dakota’s climate will see increasing temperatures, increasing precipitation variances, warmer nights and warmer winters,” Traver said. “We will have a climate that is similar to Oklahoma.”
Scientists also say that within as little as 50 years, many regions of the US’s freshwater supply could be reduced by as much as a third. Nearly half of freshwater basins are predicted to not meet consumers’ monthly demands by 2071, meaning serious water shortages may occur.
Because of the extreme dryness, wildfires continue to ravage through the western parts of the country. The National Interagency Fire Center says since Aug. 30, 42,647 fires have burned more than 4.8 million acres across the United States compared to the 39,829 fires and 3.9 million acres that were burned in 2020.
As of Aug. 26, 26,884 personnel deployed on 88 large, active fires across the U.S. Of these, 86 are not contained. The average year-to-date for Aug. 30 is 40,046 fires burning 5.3 million acres.
Hazy and smoky skies have been reported throughout the entire summer of 2021. Wildfire smoke from Canada and the Western U.S. stretched across the continent last month and led officials to recommend that people in certain regions stay indoors with their windows closed.
On Aug. 2, Inforum’s article warned that the official U.S. Air Quality Index for the Fargo-Moorhead area and Grand Forks was in the red category. Officials recommended that people stay inside with windows and doors closed, reduce outside activities and set air condition units and car vent systems to prevent outside air from moving inside.
In conditions like that, the air is unhealthy for everyone, especially those with heart and lung disease. Long exposure to the smoke can cause immediate symptoms such as runny noses, scratchy throats and watery eyes.
“It affects the wild and hurts people as well,” Traver said.
N.D.’s Department of Environmental Air Quality suggests purchasing and wearing N95 NIOSH approved respirator masks. These masks remove up to 95% of the particles we breathe.
To stay safe during wildfires or poor air quality conditions, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people keep smoke outside, reduce their smoke exposure, keep track of pets and animals and pay attention to health symptoms.
American Red Cross explains how Individuals can take precautions to prevent wildfires by checking if your area has a fire ban, not leaving campfires unattended, not starting a fire on a windy day, making sure conditions are good for fireworks, not letting children handle fireworks, sparklers or firecrackers unsupervised and not parking a hot car in dry grass.
With wildfires comes the destruction of homes and belongings, the Federal Emergency Management Agency donations team identified the following unmet needs: diapers, food, water, pet food and N95 masks. To donate, please email: FEMA-Donations-MGT@fema.dhs.gov.
In addition, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy has two funds for Calif. and Colo. There is also a Disaster Recovery Fund that provides support for the U.S. and a Global Recovery Fund that helps Canada, Mexico and the rest of the world.