Is the Western US drought caused by climate change?

Climateprediction.net has launched a new experiment to find out if climate change has made the drought in California, Oregon and Washington more likely.

The Western US drought has ranged from troublesome to severe. Californians have just experienced a fourth winter of drought, following three years that have marked some of the most severe drought conditions in the past century.

Oregon is in its second year of drought thanks to very low snowpack because of warm, mild winters. Washington is in its first year of drought – a result almost exclusively tied to warmer winter temperatures.

This past winter, Governor Jerry Brown issued water restrictions for the first time in the history of the state. In 2014 alone, the drought cost $2.2 billion and caused over 17,000 farm workers to lose their jobs.

In the video above, Abby Halperin, Myles Allen and Friederike Otto at the Environmental Change Institute explain how serious the ongoing drought is, and how this Weather@home experiment will help determine what effect, if any, human-induced climate change has had on the likelihood of the drought.

With the help of volunteers all around the world running simulations on their home computers, the experiment will simulate and compare thousands of possible Western US winter seasons in the world as it might have been without climate change, with possible winter weather in the world as we know it. If the chance of a drought in these two worlds is the same, then climate change cannot be blamed for this particular event. However, if the chance of a drought is greater in the world with climate change, this indicates that climate change increased the risk of drought.

Read more about the Weather@home experiment and how you can get involved

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