PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A terrible dry spell continues to plague Arizona, and we're not alone.

According to a new study from the University of Arizona, longer and more frequent periods of drought are hitting the entire Western US.

This study is a big wake-up call. Researchers say every year, temperatures are getting hotter and we're seeing fewer rainstorms hit our state. UArizona teamed up with the US Department of Agriculture in hopes of understanding how rainfall totals and the timing of rainstorms have changed over the past 50 years.

Researchers analyzed daily data from more than 300 weather stations across the West and found the amount of rain we get on a yearly basis has dropped by a whopping four inches since the 1970s. Plus, the average longest dry spell has jumped roughly 50 percent, from 20 days to 32 days long. In the desert Southwest specifically, our dry spells have skyrocketed from 31 days to 48 days long.

"We're pretty concerned," said Bill Smith, Assistant Professor of the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and co-author on the study. "These changes are scary for a region that already is on the edge, in terms of the amount of water that's available annually, in particular, with the pressures that we already put on water resources in the region."

Furthermore, the study shows daily temperatures have increased by 0.2 degrees Celsius each decade.

"Increases in temperatures have been linked to, essentially the burning of fossil fuels and increases in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere," Smith said.

Researchers also say, when we do get the rain, these storms are increasingly dumping it all at once, and we aren't using that water efficiently to get us by when those long dry spells happen.

"I don't have a great answer for how we fix these changes," Smith said. "I think what we're seeing, is already in motion to an extent, that the next efforts are really going to be around adapting to these types of changes and better utilizing existing water resources."

Ultimately, researchers believe that if we don't come up with ways to adapt to these changes in climate, there will be an array of socioecological challenges ahead, including cattle ranchers not having adequate feed for their animals, farmers losing crops, wildfires continuing to get more extreme and the widespread death of ecosystems.

"Seeing that we are experiencing these more extreme drought events, means big changes for ecosystems in the future," said Smith. "And with big changes in ecosystems, we're going to see large changes in the services that the ecosystems provide."

 

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