australia-drought.jpgThe story of Australia’s worst dry spell in a thousand years continues to astound. Last year we learned, “One farmer takes his life every four days.” This year over half of Australia’s agricultural land is in a declared drought.

How bad is it? One Australian newspaper is reporting:

Drought will become a redundant term as Australia plans for a permanently drier future, according to the nation’s urban water industries chief …

“The urban water industry has decided the inflows of the past will never return,” Water Services Association of Australia executive director Ross Young said. “We are trying to avoid the term ‘drought’ and saying this is the new reality.”

Unless we take start leading on climate action soon, America faces the same fate: In April, Science ($ubs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” — levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. What causes this climatic disaster?

According to the study, as the planet warms, the Hadley Cell, which links together rising air near the Equator and descending air in the subtropics, expands poleward. Descending air suppresses precipitation by drying the lower atmosphere so this process expands the subtropical dry zones. At the same time, and related to this, the rain-bearing mid-latitude storm tracks also shift poleward. Both changes in atmospheric circulation, which are not fully understood, cause the poleward flanks of the subtropics to dry.

And that is separate from recent research that finds “future reductions in Arctic sea ice cover could significantly reduce available water in the American west” ($ubs. reqd). With the Arctic melting at a stunning rate, the West is facing a double drought whammy from climate change.

The time to act is now.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.