Summer of Drought

As of August 15, 2022, 99.8% of California and 100% of the state of Nevada were in drought.  While droughts across the western United States are not unprecedented, we are witnessing excessive heat and droughts across the world in areas that are not familiar with or prepared to deal with the consequences of prolonged drought.  The United Kingdom, in particular, has suffered through, at times, unbearable heat this summer without the usual consistent rain the country is well-used to.  These dire conditions have affected energy consumption, agriculture and other industries across the United Kingdom.

Droughts are caused by deficiencies in precipitation over an extended period of time. These periods of dryness can last for weeks, months or even years.  While droughts are normal occurrences across many regions of the planet, the summer of 2022 stands out for how widespread these arid conditions are.  The whole world, it seems, is facing drought at the same time.

Dried out Campanillas River near Almogia, Malaga Province, Andalusia, Spain. Photo: Ken Welsh/UCG

There are four types of drought and each appears to be in display worldwide this year.  Meteorological drought is based on the degree of dryness (rainfall deficit) and the length of the dry period; Hydrologic drought is based on the impact of rainfall deficits on the water supply such as stream flow, reservoir and lake levels, and ground water table decline; Agricultural droughtis based on the impacts to agriculture by factors such as rainfall deficits, soil water deficits, reduced groundwater, or reservoir levels needed for irrigation; and Socioeconomic drought which is based on the impact of drought conditions (meteorological, agricultural, or hydrological drought) on supply and demand of some economic goods. Socioeconomic drought occurs when the demand for an economic good exceeds supply as a result of weather-related deficits in water supply.

Water conservation sign, West Kern Water District, Maricopa, Kern County, California, USA. Photo: Peter Bennett/Citizen of the Planet/UIG

The severe drought affecting many regions of Europe since the beginning of the year has been further expanding and worsening as of early August. Dry conditions are related to a wide and persistent lack of precipitation combined with a sequence of heatwaves from May onwards.  According to the Global Drought Observatory (GDO), more than 64% of Europe is currently in drought.  The GDO also points to East Africa as a region facing dangerous drought conditions with more than 70 million people currently enduring drought conditions in the region.  A long-lasting drought is affecting Somalia, coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania, and central-eastern Ethiopia.

Abstract pattern of dry cracked clay mud in dried up lake bed / riverbed caused by prolonged drought in summer in hot weather temperatures. Photo: Sven-Erik Arndt/Arterra/UCG

The effects of severe and long-lasting droughts can be disastrous.  In Norway, which relies on hydropower to generate 90% of its electricity, reservoirs are at dangerous levels, leading to rationing, cost increases and export challenges at a time when Russia’s stranglehold on gas deliveries to Europe has caused political tensions and fears of how Europe will manage to heat its homes this coming winter.  In France, parts of the Loire River are so dry people can walk across from one side to the other.  The extreme heat and lack of rainfall in France has made it difficult to maintain some of France’s nuclear reactors, causing many of them to go offline, further straining the country’s power needs.  Germany’s desire to transport coal to combat Russia’s unpredictable gas cuts has been compromised by receding water levels in the Rhine River.

China has faced its own drought this summer, with excessive heat leading to rationing of electricity and the temporary closing of many factories to conserve energy.  The world’s third-longest river, China’s Yangtze, has seen record low water levels this summer and the world’s largest dam, the Three Gorges Dam, has generated up to 40% less power at times this summer, straining energy needs.  China’s economic output has been affected by the drought, and many expect the challenges the country faces to worsen over the next several months.

Water level gauge at Rio Hondo Spreading Grounds, Water Replenishment District, Pico Rivera, Los Angeles County. Photo: Peter Bennett/Citizen of the Planet/UIG

In China and elsewhere, the effect of drought on agriculture is alarming.  China’s rice harvest this year will be significantly smaller as a result of precipitation deficiencies.  Soybean, grain, and sunflower yields across Europe will be at least 12% less than the prior 5-year average.  The American West, which depends on the Colorado River for much of it’s water needs, has watched with worry as water levels on the river have decreased significantly, leading to water rationing in Arizona, Nevada, and California.

North America, USA, Arizona, Page, Lake Powell, Dramatically Low Water Level. Photo: Bernard Friel/UCG

These are all signs of long-term water-related challenges facing the entire globe.  Long-term and consistent drought affects food supply, energy, supply chains and other critical infrastructure processes.   Praying for rain or leading a rain dance might help a bit, but a more effective approach would be governments agreeing to long-term strategies that address these global challenges. 

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Sources: by Ellen Ioanes, August 21, 2022 by Jason Horowitz, August 18, 2022 by Tiffany May and Jay Dong, August 18, 2022 by Henry Fountain, July 21, 2022 by News Wires, August 23, 2022

This article continues a series of posts focused on UIG’s Mission 2022: Climate Change.  Help us build a comprehensive climate change collection by contributing content to UIG.  Contact us at

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