Ann Curry Reports   |  April 07, 2014

Our Year of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home? Part 2

Parts of 23 states in the U.S. are already enduring drought. Climate scientists have referred to the drought in the Southwest as a “mega-drought,” and say it is increasing the risk of wildfires potentially putting homeowners and firefighters at additional risk.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> you're looking at a place where parched earth, withered crops, and the sale of livestock tell a story of fear. this is california. in the third year of drought.

>> this reservoir, two hours north of los angeles provides fresh water to some 200,000 people. the area is in a water emergency. the water level , where i'm down here, is supposed to be more than 50 feet higher, up there. it's only april. the hotter, drier months are still ahead.

>> parts of 23 states in the u.s. are already enduring drought. in the west, the number of areas with the most extreme drought has nearly doubled in the last year.

>> it used to be nice and plush.

>> in lake of the woods , we found tera sherk trying to create any bit of passing water.

>> i use it to flush my toilets or water my plants.

>> you pray for rain ?

>> all the time.

>> the wells are almost without water, and recent drilling has not produced any water. their town only has a few weeks of water left. she uses clean shower water to wash her dishers.

>> i notice you have a dishwasher.

>> i do not use that at all. it's used for storage.

>> it's proved too much for some of her neighbors.

>> this one is empty, this one is empty, and there are two on that end empty.

>> all because of the drought?

>> because people are fearful and leaving.

>> now tera is looking for a miracle.

>> i want something to happen, i don't know what.

>> the drought that threatens h her communicate. farmers have been forced to cut back production. food prices are expected to rise.

>> the drought we have seen in the southwest is one of the worst in the last 100 years.

>> why specifically the southwest?

>> the way the air moves around the earth, you will end up with a drier southwest.

>> although know mar cycles of weather can cause drought in the region, mr. wagner says persistent conditions have kept rain away from the area.

>> what's happening is that snow is going away earlier.

>> melting faster, he says, as temperatures rise.

>> we had a shorter period over which there is snow on the ground.

>> and this extremely dry conditions are not a big enough threat, the ongoing drought, that some call a megadrought, is increasing the risk of wild fires. in california alone, some 800 wildfires, big and small, have ignited in 2014 . that's three times the normal number . the u.s. forrest service says nearly 70,000 communities across the country are in wildfire danger zones. jim houston leads the laguna hot shots . an elite group of firefighters on the front edge of some of the biggest fires in history.

>> how have fired changed?

>> when i started, it seems like the fire seasons have gone longer. it was a sixth month period, basically june to november.

>> but that has changed.

>> we joke about it being a year long fire season.

>> it's not just putting communities at risk, but it's posing dangers to the men and women on the front line .

>> can you take much more in terms of the demands? this job is now requiring.

>> the first thing that will get us is fatigue, our head has to be in the game.

>> no matter how sharp the crew might be, wildfires can be unpredictable. last year they worked alongside the granite mountain hot shots weeks before the terrible tragedy happen.

>> what exactly did you hear on the phone?

>> we just lost a whole hot shot crew. they were burned over and killed.

>> 19 hot shots from the same crew died. the deadliest day for wildfirefighters in 80 years. it rippled through the nation.

>> you think about the families that have now lost their loved ones and what they have to go through now.

>> but houston can't afford to dwell on the tragedy. fire season is here again, and scientists say that drought is expected to persist.

>> you're saying there is not a lot of debate about that?

>> there is always a debate about specific events, right in but we can say some general things we expect to happen. one of them that is the southwest will get drier. and places like the east will experience more intense rainfall.

>> we have what seems to be, at least for now a very abnormal situation.

>> this is the new normal.

>> and that new normal has sparked a new theory about wildfires. a theory that led us to the top of the world . life here has changed, too.

>> we have been here for thousands of years. why should we take the time for