Friday, April 9, 2010

On the US plains, concern about another Dust Bowl

Brian Winter in USA Today:… Seventy-five years have passed since the worst of the Dust Bowl, a relentless series of dust storms that ravaged farms and livelihoods in the southern Great Plains that carried a layer of silt as far east as New York City. Today, the lessons learned during that era are more relevant than ever as impending water shortages and more severe droughts threaten broad swaths of the nation.

The storms, made worse by insufficient crop rotation and other farming practices that eroded the soil, unleashed one of the biggest migrations in American history, as thousands fled from Texas and Oklahoma to places such as California. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees America's land and other natural resources, says another period of mass "relocation" is possible in the 21st century — especially if rain patterns and temperatures change as some expect. "As we see the effects of climate change … we're going to have to become even more cognizant of our relationship with land, water and wildlife," Salazar says.

…Gary McManus, a climatologist for Oklahoma's state-run climate organization, says global warming could have a "catastrophic" impact across the parts of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma that suffered most in the "Dirty Thirties." He says the region's climate is so dry, even in the best of times, that just a small increase in average temperatures could quickly cause critical amounts of moisture in the soil to evaporate.

That could mean more severe dust storms. And, McManus says, droughts could become longer and more acute as weather patterns shift. Meanwhile, the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir upon which the area relies for nearly all of its water, is being depleted by growing demand from commercial agriculture and urban centers…..

A dust storm in Stratford, Texas, in 1935. Image from NOAA's archives

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