• A major heatwave is affecting the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
  • The high temperatures have exacerbated longstanding droughts.
  • Currently 61% of continental US is under droughts of varying severity.
  • This high coverage of area under droughts has been ongoing for 40 weeks.
  • The extreme circumstances have spurred demand for water and cooling.
  • The last time the country faced similarly droughts was between April 2012 and May 2013.

A major heatwave is affecting the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but the stretch of unusually hot and dry weather is just the latest addition to drought conditions the country has been experiencing since late 2020. The extreme circumstances have spurred demand for water and cooling, while leaving reservoirs emptier than usual. With the drought comes a heightened risk of heat-induced medical emergencies and wildfires. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, extreme and exceptional drought affected the Southwest strongest, but also stretched into Oregon, Washington, North Dakota and Texas.

As of this Monday, droughts of different levels of severity affected almost 61 percent of the area of the continental United States. The number has been hovering around the 60-percent mark since September of 2020 or for 40 weeks total. While the number has risen as high before, it rarely stayed there for so long. During the drought of 2018, it exceeded the threshold for only five weeks.

a chart showing the drought coverage in continental usa
The last time the country faced similarly droughts was between April 2012 and May 2013.
Image: Statista

The last time a major drought in the U.S. lasted for so long was between April 2012 and May 2013, when droughts affected more than 60 percent of the United States’ area for 60 weeks in a row and expanded to around 80 percent momentarily. But even during that time, the area classified as under exceptional drought never exceeded 7 percent. In the current scenario, it has been consistently above 8 percent for 31 weeks, most recently approaching 10 percent.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

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While fluctuating temperatures and very hot, very dry or very cold days are a normal phenomenon, these extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe due to climate change. Scientist have connected the reoccuring drought in the Western U.S. to a changing climate, for example citing heatwaves that start earlier in the year and have become longer as well as stronger.