Saturday, April 9, 2011

Texas/Oklahoma Drought in Context


Desdemona Despair covers an AP story with the scary sounding headline: Oklahoma sees driest four months since Dust Bowl:
Oklahoma was drier in the four months following Thanksgiving than it has been in any similar period since 1921. That's saying a lot in the state known for the 1930s Dust Bowl, when drought and high winds generated severe dust storms that stripped the land of its topsoil.

Neighboring states are in similar shape as the drought stretches from the Louisiana Gulf coast to Colorado, and conditions are getting worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The area in Texas covered by an extreme drought has tripled in the past month to 40 percent, and in Oklahoma it nearly doubled in one week to 16 percent, according to the monitor's March 29 update. …

Mike Spradling, the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said many wheat farmers have considered just plowing under their fields and switching to another crop.

Associate state climatologist Gary McManus said conditions have actually gotten worse since crops began emerging. The plants have rapidly sucked up the limited moisture in the soil.
The map above shows the current Palmer Drought Severity Index (courtesy of the National Weather Service).  You can see that indeed there's a moderate to severe drought stretching from Louisiana in the east into southern Arizona in the west.  There are even pockets of extreme drought in eastern Texas.

However, this is what the dustbowl looked like:


To compare current events to that is complete hyperbole.  Watch these animations, and you'll see that most years there's a drought somewhere in the United States.  Right now it happens to be in and around Texas.  That's all.

9 comments:

Nebris said...

No, no! It must be The Apocalypse!! *runs around with hair on fire* [feel free to substitute fav Doomer scenario]

On The Other Hand...I suppose that headline is a version of 'if it bleeds it leads'. And I expect various Deniers will latch upon it as an example of Liberal Media Bias.

Robert said...

I grew up in Amarillo. One of my earliest childhood memories is being caught in a black duster during a Sunday drive in the country. Howard Finnell lived across the street and had a child my age. He probably did more than any individual to mitigate the problem with the introduction of measures such as contour plowing.

Robert said...

http://www.library.okstate.edu/oralhistory/dustbowl/bibliography.htm

http://www.flickr.com/photos/laguardiaandwagnerarchives/4011434967/

http://www.library.okstate.edu/scua/collect/finnell/index.htm

http://www.library.okstate.edu/scua/collect/finnell/index.htm

rjs said...

thats an AP story...google gives 79,000 returns for that headline..

Stuart Staniford said...

rjs: I know, that's why I said "covers an AP story". But it's the kind of story that Des specializes in aggregating, with almost no balance or perspective (and that's where I happened to see it).

rjs said...

sorry, stuart, i missed that AP reference...i thought you had just seen the Des article; i first saw it at joe romm's climate progress, where it was headlined thus:

USGS on Dust-Bowlification: Drier conditions projected to accelerate dust storms in the U.S. Southwest - Oklahoma now drier than the 1930s Dust Bowl

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/climateprogress/lCrX/~3/qtTj_mNhHvQ/

Stuart Staniford said...

rjs - I continue to be very concerned about the long term drought situation, particularly in places like the US southwest and the Mediterrnean, though there are some things about the science that still puzzle me and make me less than confident that I really know what is happening. All I was trying to say here is that you can't look at a regional drought that's well within normal variation from year to year for the US as a whole, and either compare it to the dustbowl, or use it as evidence of imminent drought catastrophe.

rjs said...

no doubt; remember recent fears that lake lanier would dry up, leaving atlanta without water?

http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2007-06-15-southern-drought2_N.htm

conditions change

Tim said...

@rjs. Atlanta did come pretty close to running out of water from Lanier. IIRC at one point there was about 30 days supply left. I put that down to the fact that Lanier was not built to supply Atlanta with water, but rather for flood control and hydro power. I also attribute some of the problems due to what strikes me as the topsy turvy (mis)management of the outflow.