If you've ever been soaked in a downpour, you know what happens when you finally get indoors and place your damp socks by a radiator or other source of heat: The heat evaporates the water and dries out the socks. So it comes as little surprise that rising global temperatures have a drying effect on the landscape. Indeed, the land area stricken by "serious drought" has more than doubled since the 1970s affecting about 30 percent of the world's land as of 2002, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. About half of that change traces to rising temperatures as opposed to less rainfall or less snow. (See www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2005/drought_research.shtml)
Drought is bad news.
What is drought? One way to put it, it's when too little rain or snow falls for an extended period of time usually a season or more resulting in damage to food crops, increasing the threat of wildfires, and possibly leading to restrictions on how you can use water at home.
As severe drought gripped the southeastern United States in fall 2007, North Carolina's governor asked residents to stop using water for any reason "not essential to public health and safety," and officials generally begged residents not to waste water. (See www.nytimes.com/2007/10/16/us/16drought.html). Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin started a ritual:
During her shortened showers, she kept a bucket in the tub to collect water to use on a couple of her favorite thirsty plants. (See www.cnn.com/2007/US/10/18/pip.atlantadrought/).
Droughts are normal, recurring hazards but they're exacerbated by human actions such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, both of which contribute to global warming. No one can say whether the Southeast's drought is due to climate change. Yet scientists expect droughts to intensify in a warming world. They'll likely last longer and be more severe.
"More frequent extreme events such as droughts and floods could end up being more cause for concern than the long-term change in temperature and precipitation averages," according to the National Drought Mitigation Center (www.drought.unl.edu/whatis/cchange.htm).
As a New York Times story put it, drought is "the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters," a reference to the late comedian who complained he got no respect. Consumers can do their part to change that by conserving water. Examples: Don't use the garbage disposal; compost vegetables and fruits. Reuse clean water, such as water used to boil eggs or steam vegetables.
For more info:
* See a continually updated map of the nation's drought-stricken areas: www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html
* Recent warming of the Indian Ocean has been linked to global warming and may be a major factor in the Sahel drought: ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/meeting/Drght/materials/wg1_meeting_Drght_finalreport.pdf
* Perpetual drought is expected in the southwestern US as early as 2021: tinyurl.com/2jaawb
* Expect longer, drier droughts: www.drought.unl.edu/droughtscape/2007Spring/dsspring07-IPCC.htm
* How you can save water: www.conservewatergeorgia.net/Documents/what_you_can_do.html
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