Are Dust Bowl Conditions Returning To The Midwest And West?

During the 1930s, one of the environmental conditions that significantly worsened the impact of the Great Depression was the “dust bowl”, referring to the dry agricultural conditions that caused crops to die and brought about the mass migration of peoples around the US, especially from Texas and Oklahoma to California.

Now according to CBS news, there is the chance of a “megadraught” similar to what happened during the Dust Bowl years to return to the US.

Come spring, the American West’s vast water reservoirs are supposed to fill with melting snow. However, this year, as in recent years, the large reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell in the Colorado River basin area have seen declining water levels — an ominous trend that a new study warns could signal a looming megadrought.

“The persistence of the drought conditions, in the Colorado River basin especially, is essentially unprecedented in human history,” John Fleck, author of “Water is for Fighting Over,” told CBS News’ John Blackstone.

Fleck has spent years studying the Colorado River, a crucial source of water for much of the region around it. He said that Lake Mead and Lake Powell’s reservoirs have what he described as “big bathtub rings” around them, left behind as the water declines.

“There is less water in the system now than there was 20 and 30 years ago,” he said.
Fleck explained that a “wet year” every few years may seem like the drought is ending, but those years are still comparatively lower than decades before.

“When we do get a snowpack in the mountains over winter, we are seeing less water make it into the rivers, and downstream to the farms and cities and the fish and the ecosystems that depend on the water,” he said.

Lake Powell is shown from an airplane window on March 30, 2015, in Page, Arizona. / JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
A team of scientists is researching megadroughts that have lasted as long as 40 years, using tree ring evidence going back 1,200 years.

“If they go back in time 500 years or so, there were these phenomenal droughts — in terms of both severity and in terms of length,” Park Williams, the scientist leading the research, said. “And until recently, those droughts have always been spoken about with almost a mythical-type character.”

Williams said the drought of the last two decades “developed the same way that the megadroughts did.”
However, the key difference now is climate change’s effect on weather conditions in the area, which largely depends on melting snowpacks to fill reservoirs.

“Without human-caused climate change, we would still have a drought,” Williams said. “But it wouldn’t be a serious as the one we’ve actually seen.” (source)

I have never discussed this on, but one of the conditions that I monitor closely is the drought situation for the US. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has an excellent resource you can use here to follow conditions and patterns around the country.

As the article notes, the major issues are out west in the Colorado River region, as the river feeds people in multiple states of what are otherwise generally deserted regions. Since water is a critical resource, it is only natural that water would be a major issue for all of them due to their geography.

Environmental conditions can exacerbate political or social problems. With the economic crash exposed by the effects of the COVID-19 virus, there is a serious possibility that even a small drought which affects crops would have a major impact on economic and social issues.

Could this cause domestic migrations? Will it have a significant effect on the price of food (it likely will)? What effects will this have on what is left of the “American way of life?” We do not fully know, but just like the COVID-19 virus, what effects it does have will likely come as unexpected to many, who will find themselves unprepared and panicking to figure out how to respond.

The virus was a warning call. Do not be caught unprepared for the future, as it might be too late.

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