Dry spell

Nevada Drought Response Committee

University of Nevada seismology researcher Graham Kent on Fallen Leaf Lake, July 12.

University of Nevada seismology researcher Graham Kent on Fallen Leaf Lake, July 12.


Read the entire drought plan at www.climate.unr.edu.

Despite the flurry of late spring storms, Nevada’s dry winter is one of several reasons for the revision of the state’s drought plan—which entails the formation of the Nevada Drought Response Committee comprised of the Nevada State Climate Office, Division of Emergency Management and Division of Water Resources.

The new plan is timely with summer approaching and the wildfires that continue to spring up in the region, including a fire last week in Douglas County, which destroyed two homes.

According to the drought plan document, the plan “identifies a system to use in monitoring the magnitude, severity and extent of drought within the state on a county-by-county basis; sets a framework in place for actions based on three stages of drought response: drought watch, drought alert and drought emergency; establishes a drought response committee to implement the plan, report to the governor and assemble task forces to serve as experts in drought-affected areas as liaisons to local and federal government and sources of information; [and] outlines the significance of a drought event and types of drought encountered in Nevada.”

The committee has placed a stage 2 (severe) drought alert on Churchill, Clark, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Pershing, Storey, Washoe and White Pine counties. Stage 1 (moderate) drought watch counties include Carson, Douglas, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral and Nye. According to the drought plan, a stage 3 ranking would require action, including an emergency drought declaration, and could lead to the activation of Nevada’s Emergency Operations Center.

While some scientists say that the droughts are partly affected by climate change, Nevada has a long history of severe droughts that can last for years. Scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno, are researching what they refer to as “Medieval megadroughts” in the Sierra Nevada. According to a report written by Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a drought lasted from 800 to 1250 A.D. Precipitation levels at that time were 60 percent less than average. Currently, levels are at 65 percent less, which doesn’t have a huge impact in one year—but if the levels were to remain at this for several years at a time, the impact would be devastating on local wildlife. Kent’s research currently focuses on Fallen Leaf Lake, which functions as a microcosm of potential environmental changes.

“The lake is like a canary in a coal mine for the Sierra, telling the story of precipitation very clearly,” said Kent in a statement released by UNR.

According to Kent’s research, large droughts occur in the area every 650 to 1,150 years. It’s been 750 years since the last one.

“With climate change upon us, it will be interesting to see how carbon dioxide loading in the atmosphere will affect this cycle,” Kent said.

Early this year, the Huffington Post ran a piece on the impact of low snowfall on the region—not just on the ecosystem, but on tourism and businesses that depend on annual snowfall. The article was accompanied by an interactive map comparing January 2011 snow levels with those of 2012 and reveals low levels of precipitation in much of the Western U.S., extending far into Montana and Colorado. View the map at http://huff.to/DryMap.

Droughts are part of Nevada’s ecology, but experts recommend practicing water conservation habits anyway, such as tightening faucets, reducing shower time and cutting back on watering lawns.