UTAH'S DROUGHT

BYU Professor: Tree Rings Reveal We May Be In A Megadrought 

Jun 16, 2021, 6:52 PM | Updated: Jun 17, 2021, 10:06 am

PROVO, Utah — The ongoing heatwave has set record temperatures all across Utah and now a professor at BYU, who studies drought, said he was not surprised by what Utah has seen over the last two decades.

Last summer and into the fall, Utah temperatures broke a lot of heat records. This spring, the trend continued, and that caught the attention of Brigham Young University professor Matt Bekker.

“We may very well break another record today. At the beginning of this week, I expected to see at least three or four broken records,” Bekker said Wednesday.

Last fall on the Wasatch Front the heat set a record for the latest 100° temperature. This spring, the earliest 100° temperature.

“We kept breaking maximum temperature records over and over again,” Bekker said.

All of those broken records got Bekker thinking about temperature trends related to drought. He studied drought through tree rings because they provide a climate record that goes back further than recorded history.

“The tree rings can take us back hundreds of thousands of years to give us a picture of how water resources have varied over much longer periods of time,” Bekker said.

As he looked closer at the data a trend emerged.

“We weren’t breaking records from the 1930s, or the 1950s, we were breaking records from five years ago, and 15 years ago,” he said.

It suggested to him that Utah may be in a long-term drought, that is getting worse.

“Most of the last 20 years have been dry,” the professor said. “We’ve had a couple of wet years here and there that have helped fill our reservoirs.”

At times, the drought appeared to subside.

Brigham Young University Professor Matt Bekker said tree rings indicate Utah is in a megadrought. (KSL TV)

“But, over these 20 years the whole thing is basically a drought,” he said.

It’s potentially, a megadrought, as a number of scientists have suggested this spring. What is a megadrought?

“Usually, it’s a couple of decades: long duration, but also very high severity,” said Bekker. “These megadroughts are defined in that way and basically we’re in one right now over this 20-year period.”

That doesn’t mean it was never wet, but our trend is exceptionally dry.

Bekker believes we all need greater urgency with conservation, abiding by the twice-a-week watering guideline.

Will we run out of water someday? “It’s going to be a long way off before we don’t have water in the sink,” he said.

We should consider what we need, and what we want with our water. A green lawn is a want. Water for cooking, drinking, and firefighting are needs.

“If we think about our wants right now, and cut back on those things that we want, like perfectly green grass in July, then maybe we will have enough for the other things that we really need,” Bekker said.

Utah also entered that period between June and August in which we typically get very little precipitation.

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BYU Professor: Tree Rings Reveal We May Be In A Megadrought