September 6, 2012 in Washington Voices

Drought has much of U.S. in its grip

Randy Mann

Much of the Great Plains is still suffering from one of the worst droughts in recorded history. Over the Labor Day weekend, moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain over an area stretching from Missouri to Ohio. But this moisture was needed several months ago to save this year’s corn crop.

For much of west Texas, the drought of the past few years has been the worst in recorded history. It has been even more parching than the infamous droughts of the 1930s and the 1950s.

From Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, the entire state of Texas suffered through its driest 12 months ever observed. Farmers and ranchers lost more than $8 billion. The 2010-’11 drought extended north into Oklahoma and much of Kansas. It also covered a major portion of the Southwest, from New Mexico westward through Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

In 2012, this major drought spread east past the Appalachian Mountains and north through Iowa and Nebraska into Montana, the Dakotas and southern Canada.

But, while the parching droughts of the 1950s, the 1980s and the 2010s have each set records in places across the U.S., overall no drought in the recorded history of this country has been worse than the Dust Bowl of the Depression-wracked 1930s.

This drought featured the worst environmental disaster of the entire 20th century in this country. More than 3 million people left their farms in the dust-choked Great Plains and migrated to other states, particularly California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Many areas of the U.S. east of the Rockies from the Dakotas to Texas received just 37 percent of normal precipitation during this decade-long drought.

The previous 75-year cycle major drought of 1856-1865 was almost as dry nationwide, but the environmental disaster of the 1930s was far worse due to poor land use and the lack of planning, a severe problem that still faces us in the 21st century on a global scale.

In our region, after a very wet spring season, much of the summer has been drier than normal.

Many of us are enjoying the sunny days with warm afternoon temperatures. Although I do expect an increase of moisture in the coming weeks, precipitation totals are still expected to be below normal levels through at least the middle of October. Despite some chilly nights, temperatures should be a bit above normal into the early fall season.

If you have any questions or comments, you can contact Randy Mann at wxmann, or go to www.longrange for additional information.

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