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In a stark new report, a team of NOAA and independent researchers found the 2020-2021 drought across the Southwest is the worst in the instrumental record, which dates to 1895.

Why it matters: They also concluded that global warming is making it far more severe, primarily by increasing average temperatures, which boosts evaporation.

State of play: The Southwest is facing historic water woes, with the first-ever federal water shortage declaration at Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir by surface volume.

  • This triggered cutbacks in Colorado River water allocations to Arizona and other states, a waterway that 40 million people rely on for irrigation and drinking water.
  • A dangerous wildfire scenario continues to play out, especially in California, where the Dixie Fire is now the state's second-largest on record, approaching the rare category of a "gigafire," by charring at least 1 million acres.
  • The report found that the 20-month period from January 2020 to August 2021 was the driest such period on record, as well as the third-warmest.

Threat level: The study ties the heat directly to climate change, and warns the severity of such drought events is sure to worsen barring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Higher temperatures cause spring snowpack to disappear early and accelerates the drying of soils.

The big picture: The drought is occurring in the context of the first climate change-induced "megadrought," which research shows began in 2000 and is exceptional on millennial timescales, study co-author Justin S. Mankin of Dartmouth University, told Axios.

Go deeper

9 feet of snow wallops California mountains as brutal cold invades U.S.

Computer model projection shows temperature departures from average forecasted for Dec. 29. Photo: Weatherbell.com

California's ski resorts are digging out from under 5 to 9 feet of snow that has fallen over the last several days from a series of storms. And more snow is on the way.

The big picture: A large dip, or trough, in the jet stream across the West is allowing frigid conditions and a relentless series of storms to bring record-breaking snowfall into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The snow has closed major interstates and even forced the shut down of several ski resorts.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.