Friday, May 16, 2014

Is this the 1930's "Dust Bowl" redux?

National Geographic thinks so.

Four years into a mean, hot drought that shows no sign of relenting, a new Dust Bowl is ... engulfing the same region that was the geographic heart of the original. The undulating frontier where Kansas, Colorado, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma converge is as dry as toast. The National Weather Service, measuring rain over 42 months, reports that parts of all five states have had less rain than what fell during a similar period in the 1930s.

"If you have a long enough period without rain, there will be dust storms and they can be every bit as bad as they were in the Thirties," says Mary Knapp, the Kansas State assistant climatologist.

Cattle are being sold to market because there is not enough grass on rangeland for large herds to graze. Colorado's southeast Baca County is almost devoid of cattle—a change that Nolan Doesken, Colorado's state climatologist, calls "profound and dramatic."

Elsewhere, drifts of sand pile up along fence lines packed with tumbleweeds, and tens of thousands of acres of dry-land wheat have died beneath blankets of silt as fine as sifted flour. In the vocabulary of Plains weather, this is known as a "blowout." Blowouts often start as brown strips along the outer edges of fields, and then spread with each successive blowing wind like a cancer.

. . .

According to the National Climate Assessment, the government's interagency report detailing the impact of climate change, the science shows that the region is trending toward hotter and drier. The longer the current drought lasts, the harder it will be to recover. A quarter of Oklahoma, including the panhandle, and neighboring counties in Kansas and Texas are rated as being in "exceptional drought," the driest category on the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor—a status so dry that farmers express relief whenever their standing moves incrementally up a notch to "extreme drought."

As of the end of March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked 42 percent of Oklahoma's winter wheat crop as "poor" to "very poor," and categorized almost three-quarters of the state's topsoil as "short" of moisture and 80 percent of the subsoil as "very short" of moisture.

There's much more at the link, including many historic and current photographs.

This is particularly sad to read for Miss D. and myself, because we have good friends who are directly affected by this drought.  I'm sure they're having a tough time.  All we can do is pray for them, and send our best wishes - which isn't much help at a time like this, I know . . .



Anonymous said...

The western Great Plains, also called the High Plains, is a semi-arid region that undergoes periodic droughts. The 1950s were drier than the 1930s, and the 1850-65 drought was probably worse than both of those. It's a normal pattern, one that goes back tens of thousands of years and that predates modern farming, the internal combustion engine, and most human activity in the region. (FWIW I have written two books on this topic, one of which will be out this fall, one of which is hanging fire for various reasons.)

For a little additional info, you might look at James Malin's articles from "Kansas History" back in the 1940s (available from Kansas History magazine's digital archive for free), talking about the dust storms prior to 1900.


Will said...

I can't comment directly on the truthfulness of this article, but beware of NatG, since they have totally bought into the Glowbull Warmening ideology, along with Progressivism. I stopped reading their mag many years ago, due to their heavy slant.

Farm.Dad said...

Wheat is pretty much dead area wide . Even with the farming practices we had in the 70 and 80s this area would have blown worse now than it did in the 30s . We are at the point now that some are having to cut ditches 18 to 24 inches deep to try and hold the ground which of course drys out any subsoil moisture that might be there by exposing that depth to the wind . The modern method of chemical no till farming has helped to this point , but we are at the point that the residue left is pretty much gone now and dry enough not even weeds are growing . It will likely get worse before it gets better .