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Urban sprawl in Henderson, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas. Photo: David McNew/Getty Image

Even as population growth in the U.S. as a whole slows down, numbers are still rising in the Southwest and Mountain West.

  • One problem: many of these communities are among the most drought-prone in the country, and are likely to get even drier.

By the numbers: In a post this week for the Economic Innovation Group, Daniel Newman calculated that the driest group of communities in the Southwest averaged a total of 245 weeks in severe drought between January 2010 and July 2021.

  • Over the same time period, those places added an additional nearly 7.4 million people, increasing the population by 10% to more than 81.4 million people.
  • Counties mostly in the Northeast and the Midwest that spent less than a year cumulatively in severe drought over the past decade grew by only 5.7 million residents.

What's next: Population projections by NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center estimate that the U.S. population will grow by nearly 54 million through 2040, of which nearly half will be in counties that have spent more than three years in severe drought over the past decade.

The bottom line: In the age of air conditioning and irrigation, deserts haven't been an impediment to growth — simply gaze upon Phoenix, a city of more than 1.7 million that averages a little over 9 inches of rainfall each year.

  • But moving more and more people into regions that are bone dry and getting drier isn't exactly good climate change adaptation.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. It's triggered widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

4 hours ago - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.

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