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US: Drought in the South West

As the map of Verisk Maplecroft’s Drought Risk Index 2015 shows, the south western United States is highly vulnerable to drought with conditions of varying severity widespread across the region this year. California is currently in its fourth year of severe drought, prompting water restrictions to be imposed. In June 2015, according to the US Drought Monitor much of the northern and central parts of the state and across the California-Nevada-Oregon region were affected by ‘exceptional’ to ‘extreme’ drought.

Drought has a significant impact on the state’s agricultural industry. According to a recent study by the University of California, Davis, the drought could result in direct losses of US$1.8 billion from the sector this year, approximately 4% of the state’s agriculture economy. Rising temperatures and reduced annual rainfall as a result of climate change are expected to increase the frequency and severity of drought events in California. While winter precipitation is projected to increase, more will fall as rain rather than snow, resulting in reduced snowpack levels. Less spring and summer meltwater from the Sierra Nevada, which is critical to California’s water supply, will increase the risk of droughts in the state.