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Was This Summer's Searing Heat Just The Beginning Of The Megadrought?

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Mild temperatures this week have been a welcome relief from one of the hottest summers on record in Las Vegas.

But don’t let that fool you.

We are in a serious drought, and a new published studyin the journal Science Advances says this might be just the beginning.

"What we're experiencing now in the Southwest...is an example of multi-year, may be decade long, drought," said Toby Ault, one of the study's lead authors from Cornell University, "What we're talking about when we say megadrought is multiple decades that are as bad or worse than what's been seen in the historical period."

Ault said his study focused on periods of time 35 years or longer. He was clear to say researchers cannot say that this drought we're in will last that long, but he said that if climate change conditions continue the chances of an extended drought goes up. 

"If we continue down this trajectory of warming the planet with our fossil fuel emissions the likelihood of a prolonged drought or megadrought is much higher," Ault said. 

He said the dry and hot years we've experienced will be more common because of climate change. 

Ault explained that researchers looked at both precipitation - or the supply side of the climate equation - and evaporation from higher temperatures - or the demand side of the equation. 

He said that although researchers are not entirely sure what is going to happen with the supply side of the equation the demand side still out weighs it.

"We found that even if precipitation increases modestly the risk of a megadrought still goes up just because that demand side of the equation the evaporation rates go so much higher during the warmest scenarios that megadroughts are still pretty likely," he said. 

Ault also said megadroughts have happened throughout history, but they have been few and far between. 

Toby Ault, study author, Cornell University

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.