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Southwest "megadrought" leads to wildfires and new homicide evidence

Data: NOAA; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

It is only May, and the worsening, long-term drought in the Southwest is taxing water managers, firefighters and even homicide detectives in new ways.

Why it matters: The region is stuck in a "megadrought" lasting more than two decades, and studies show it is more severe than any in at least 1,200 years.


The big picture: California just recorded its driest first four months of the year, encompassing a crucial period during the heart of the state's wet season.

Meanwhile... In New Mexico, multiple large wildfires are burning amid scorching heat, high winds and dry air.

  • The National Weather Service has described the conditions there as "dire."
  • At about 259,810 acres as of Thursday morning, the Calf Canyon Fire is the state's second-largest wildfire on record and growing.
  • The Calf Canyon Fire prompted more evacuations on Wednesday, including in the resort communities in Taos County, as the fire expanded, with glowing-hot embers landing on bone-dry vegetation.

Threat level: In California, local authorities have been issuing increasingly draconian water restrictions, and the state is entering a dry season in which both its reservoirs are near record lows.

  • The state is also grappling with the new reality of a much-diminished Colorado River, which helps provide water to several states.
  • The level of water in Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada, the nation's largest reservoir by volume, is so low that one of the long-serving water intakes, built to transport water to thirsty communities in the Southwest, is no longer submerged.

The intrigue: As the water level drops, long-hidden bodies have begun to be unearthed. The first instance of skeletal human remains was discovered on May 1, inside a rusted metal barrel.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the wildfire was south of Los Angeles, not north of it.

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Dive Deeper:
Vegas mob lore floats to the surface along with bodies at Lake Mead
The skeletal remains found in a barrel at Lake Mead earlier this month have captivated and horrified two distinct groups…
What is dead pool? A water expert explains
Journalists reporting on the status and future of the Colorado River are increasingly using the phrase “dead pool.” It sounds…
Fire crews battling the massive New Mexico wildfire want a break from relentless wind
The giant, wind-whipped blaze burning in New Mexico has displaced tens of thousands and is on track to become the…
California wildfires - live: Homes destroyed in Laguna Beach area amid mandatory evacuations
The fire has already destroyed a $10m home
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Wildfires threaten New Mexico resorts, burn California mansions
Wildfires edged towards mountain resort towns in northern New Mexico on Thursday and engulfed an enclave of multi-million-dollar mansions in…
Colorado’s snowpack is melting at a 'ridiculous' rate
Colorado didn’t see enough snow this winter to fully recover from the ongoing megadrought and now what snow the state…
Get all your news in one place