More than 91 percent of the West is in drought this week, according to the US Drought Monitor, with five states entirely in drought conditions: California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Montana.
The drought has also expanded from the West into the the coastal regions of the East. Still, California drought remains significant and there has been little change in the past few weeks, with nearly half of the state in exceptional drought, the Drought Monitor's most severe category.
Though the wet season is kicking off in California this week, the intense drought could increase the risk of flash flooding and mudslides. Rain storms could generate too much rain, and too fast, and could cause dangerous conditions.
The drought is also straining water resources. The US Bureau of Reclamation said in September that there's a 3% chance Lake Powell, a major reservoir on the Colorado River, could drop below the minimum level needed to allow the lake's Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydroelectricity next year. In 2023, the chance of a shutdown grows to 34%, according to the bureau's projection.
There is also a 66% chance that Lake Mead could drop below the critical threshold of 1,025 feet above sea level in 2025, the bureau said. If water levels stay below that critical threshold, it would trigger deep water cuts, potentially affecting millions of people in California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.
The bureau in August declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering mandatory water consumption cuts for states in the Southwest beginning in 2022.
As the planet warms, drought and extreme heat will also fuel deadly wildfires. Multiple studies have linked rising carbon dioxide emissions and high temperatures to increased acreage of burning across the West, particularly in California.