Ecocentric

Why the Drought Won’t Be Getting Better Anytime Soon — and Why This One Won’t Be the Last

The droughts gets broader and deeper, covering more than three-fifths of the continental U.S. And scientific studies show that this sort of drought could only be the beginning

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Bloomberg via Getty Images

A field of dried corn plants near Percival, Iowa, on July 26, 2012. The widest drought to grip the U.S. in decades is getting worse with no signs of abating

I’m beginning to wonder what will dry up first: water supplies for the parched farmers of the Corn Belt or synonyms for aridity for the hardworking writers covering the drought? What’s clear is that the drought of 2012 shows no signs of lifting any time soon — and in fact, it’s only getting worse. More than three-fifths of the continental U.S. is experiencing at least moderate drought, while 22.3% of the country is experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, the two worst categories according to the bad-news bears at the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s twice the area that was so classified just three weeks ago — a sign of just how rapidly this “flash drought” has deepened — and last week alone, an additional 32 million acres fell into the two worst categories. Like journalists, scientists are running out of ways to say how dry it is.

Nearly 40 million acres of corn are being grown — such as it is — in territory suffering under drought conditions rated extreme or worse. That means the bumper crop of corn that had been planned back in the spring — when a near record of 96.4 million acres of corn was sown — is sure to shrivel, putting pressure on the price of nearly every kind of food. It’ll be particularly tough for livestock producers, who depend on cheap corn for feed but who can’t depend on the kind of crop insurance that will cushion the blow for many commodity farmers. Though as my colleagues at Moneyland note, the drought will actually bring about a short-term drop in meat prices as ranchers hurry underweight animals to market rather than pay high prices to keep them fed, over the long term it will mean more for your hamburger or chicken.

(PHOTOS: Drought Across Much of U.S. Leaves Crops Withered and Landscapes Burnt)

The impact of the sustained drought goes beyond farming. Rivers in the Midwest are actually drying up, including a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska. In the Mississippi, which carries 60% of the nation’s grain, 22% of its oil and gas and 20% of its coal, the drought has dropped water levels so far that barges have been forced to carry less cargo as they try to navigate the shallow waters. That’s left the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge parts of the river nearly around the clock in order to free enough space to keep the barge traffic going.

Of course, for signs of just how quick weather can change, remember it was only a year ago that flooding was causing the Mississippi to crest nearly 48 ft. above its baseline in Memphis. But it would take massive amounts of rain to return even to normal in the Midwest, let alone flood waters — and forecasters are offering little hope over the next few weeks. No rain — just more brutally hot August weather.

(MORE: The Great Drying Strikes Again)

At some point, though, the drought of 2012 will break — though probably not before this year’s harvest is irrevocably damaged. But expect more severe dry spells like this one in the future. In a study published in the Aug. 5 issue of Nature Climate Change, Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., looked at what climate models say about how global warming will impact drought. The results are not good: Dai notes that model projections suggest severe and widespread droughts over the next 30 to 90 years over many land areas, owing to both reduced precipitation and increased evaporation from higher temperatures.

Dai ends his article with a warning:

[Models] suggest severe drought conditions by the late half of this century over many densely populated areas such as Europe, the eastern USA, southeast Asia and Brazil. This dire prediction could have devastating impacts on a large number of the population if the model’s regional predictions turn out to be true.

In other words, journalists might want to stock up on synonyms for hot and dry.

MORE: How the Drought of 2012 Will Make Your Food More Expensive

25 comments
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Garzhad
Garzhad

This is nothing new. According to geological history the midwest was once a desert, and may yet become so again according to the periodic cycles of the earth.

Greenlands glaciers are receding, revealing Viking Settlements centuries old that were encased in the ice, showing that once Greenland was ice-free.

While it is foolish to say humans are Not having an impact, it is also foolish to give us more credit then we are due. Whether global warming is or is not a sham, being good stewards of the earth is important to our health and that of the animals that inhabit the planet with us, and we should continue to pursue sustainable, clean technologies with great zeal.

Jennifer Rani Gooding
Jennifer Rani Gooding

Another really witty piece on a serious subject -- difficult line to balance and you do it so well

Brian Carter
Brian Carter

Reminds me of the August 2006 cover of National Geographic. The cover is a satellite image of hurricane Katrina with the caption: KILLER HURRICANES, No end in sight!

Here we are 6 years later, where are all the hurricanes?

bertafiable
bertafiable

I have posted this before, however its is still a good idea,

I have often thought of this idea, and maby someone or the government should take this idea and run with it, at any rate here it is, and please dont tell me its to costly, the drought is even more costly.Instead of running new gas and oil pipelines all across the country, what about running WATER pipelines all across the country, so when one part of the country is flooded, we could send water to the dry parts and fill the dried up reservoirs of Texas and the dry midwest, or wherever its needed, much of the intra structure is already in place.Its WAY past time we ALL put our collective heads together and come up with the answers we all so desperatly need, not only for ourselves but for the hopefully future g

I have often thought of this idea, and maby someone or the government should take this idea and run with it, at any rate here it is, and please dont tell me its to costly, the drought is even more costly.Instead of running new gas and oil pipelines all across the country, what about running WATER pipelines all across the country, so when one part of the country is flooded, we could send water to the dry parts and fill the dried up reservoirs of Texas and the dry midwest, or wherever its needed, much of the intra structure is already in place.Its WAY past time we ALL put our collective heads together and come up with the answers we all so desperatly need, not only for ourselves but for the hopefully future generations ........

So please take ideas like these and RUN with it, together we can build a better mouse trap ( a better idea after more minds work on it).

I need a doggie treat, good luck to all  ..............enerations ........

So please take ideas like these and RUN with it, together we can build a better mouse trap ( a better idea after more minds work on it).

I need a doggie treat, good luck to all  ..............

chadke
chadke

As alarmism grows scepticism grows. You'd think you people would change tact and embrace realism.

I thought after jumping the shark repeatedly, for example

50 million climate refugees by 2010

James Hansen stating parts of Manhattan being underwater by 2038 ( 2.5inch rise since 1988 so far, only needs another 10 foot rise which could be difficult with empirical measurements being 3mm per year the last decade and decelerating ), yes I know you zealots prefer model predictions to real world evidence.

Polar bear numbers drastically lowering, anyone remember that anyone? Actually increasing, sorry about that. Add Antartic penguin clonies to that as well.

Four plastic bulbs on street lights in Oklahoma melting as a result of 115 degrees fahrenheit temperature. Only one side of two of these actually melted, which would have caused, you'd think, at least one alarmist to pause before providing endless laughter to sceptics. But alas, before they knew a dumpster fire was responsible ( Fire? Who would have thought?) nearly every alarmist from Bill McGibben to Think Progress, Joe Romm, main stream media and climate alarmist blogs could not help themselves and the time for the egg to be wiped off their faces will be considerable. I could keep going, the material is endless.

I hope you all remember your group hysterics when the rains which will come as they always have, end this current, not unusual drought.

Also the U.S. is not the world, so when publishing scares please balance them with not so scary pieces, such as that not so far away land South America which at this point in time, large parts of are preparing for record crop yields. Must be sad how inconvenient the truth can be when it comes to trying to terrify populations sometimes.

Just imagine how hysterical the high priests of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming/climate change/climate disruption/sustainable development would be if they were experiencing the far worse droughts of the 1930's and 1950's.

Perspective people, perspective.

Gabe S.
Gabe S.

In this full blown consumer society that we live in, we can't deny that we are having an unsustainable effect on the planet. It's time to be honest and consider our own impact to preserve the planet for the current and future generation. :]

RenueThePlanet.Com

Pronghorn
Pronghorn

Instead of climate models, we should ask runway models what they think the future climate will be. I suspect their answers will be just as accurate.

windy2
windy2

Mr. Walsh never mentions 200+ year droughts to compare current drought to. Maybe he just hasn't done the research on the paleoclimate data to understand that 2 or 3 months of dorought is not a harbinger of anything. Mr. Walsh believed that added water vapor in the atmosphere caused by increased CO2 warming was the reason for the Washington snow storm a few years ago because again he ignores the science and believes and writes about the hype. NASA has no direct evidence that water vapor has increased in the last 22 years based on satellite data so Mr. Walsh's conjecture has not been verified by any evidence. Rather than read Mr.Walsh's conjecture about drought yu would do better to read historic farm journals and look at state records of past drought. If you examine drought history you won't accept Mr. Walsh's misinformation. Even the IPCC AR 4 climate report claims that food production in North America will increase through the year 2100 with increased warming.

"Research since the TAR supports the conclusion that moderate climate change will likely increase yields of North American rain-fed agriculture, but with smaller increases and more spatial variability than in earlier estimates (high confidence) (Reilly, 2002). Most studies project likely climate-related yield increases of 5 to 20% over the first decades of the century, with the overall positive effects of climate persisting through much or all of the 21st century."

IPCC - 14.4.4 Agriculture, forestry and fisheries

http://www.ipcc.ch/publication...

Eric Teitelman
Eric Teitelman

Be encouraged.  There is still hope for our nation, but we must pray to our God in heaven; Yehova, the God of Israel.  A physical drought is an indication of a spiritual drought in our nation.  We must repent and turn from our wicked ways.  We must thirst for God.  All who are followers of Jesus, we must all humbly fall on our faces and pray, pray, pray.  Not just a remnant.  But all.  Bring the elders, bring the children, bring the nursing babes, bring everyone.  Pray for an awakening and revival in our nation.  Pray for God's righteousness to done upon our land.  And pray for the election.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  2 Chronicles 7:14 (New International Version)

varis
varis

What the fuck is wrong with you?

lokiii
lokiii

Interesting.  The weathermen have trouble predicting several weeks into the future, but the have the 30 to 90 year timeframe nailed.  Always take what a science geek says with a grain of salt when he says he has a model.  I can build computer models that would say the earth was flat.

Mike Birman
Mike Birman

You sound like just the kind of person who WOULD build a computer model to say the Earth was flat!

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Hey, The moon landings were faked and the Holocaust and Hydrogen Bombs are a myth too.

The Earth is flat and Galileo ought to have been strung up to the nearest tree.

Modern Christians know all the right answers.

The Muslims think so too.

Ought to be fun when we see the non existent bombs landing on your heads.

smith3171
smith3171

"I can build computer models that would say the earth was flat". Yes, you could. The problem is that this model wouldn't have the predictive power of  the  "earth is a sphere" model.  I have to remember this post, because it equates climate change with the skepticism of those who believed the earth was flat! The problem is that the comparison is better with climate change denial and the flat earth. Both ideas look only at surface level data and ignore the emerging and overwhelming patterns of scientific evidence for the opposing view. Plus, you mistakenly equate weather and climate (not the same thing).

Raimo Kangasniemi
Raimo Kangasniemi

Oh dear... You are mixing two quite different things. It's easier to predict overall climate on longer time spans than localized weather effects on the short term. But then you too probably know that.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

In other words, the Journalists might want to stock up on synonyms for Apocalypse, Armageddon and mass death. 

With most of the worlds agricultural land not productive, people die, lots of people.

We have exploited our planet to death, payback was inevitable.

SoyLent Green!

jaykimball
jaykimball

Be careful of unintended consequences.  The geo-engineering required is enormous, untested, and fraught with problematic side-effects.  Would be cheaper and healthier to put a price on carbon and start aggressively reducing CO2 emissions.

Jay Kimball

8020 Vision

jaykimball
jaykimball

I put together some charts showing trends in water scarcity.  See http://8020vision.com/2010/06/...

In the US, 21 percent of irrigation is achieved by pumping groundwater at rates that exceed the water supplies ability to recharge.

We need to get used to this new normal, getting better at conservation and efficient farming, using more drip irrigation.  Also putting a tax on carbon would help reduce CO2 emissions.

Jay Kimball

8020 Vision

deanrd
deanrd

We have one political party that says flat out this is not happening.  And they refuse to invest in the types of American infrastructure that would lessen these problems.  Oh, that's right, problems that aren't really happening to begin with.

Brian Carter
Brian Carter

Have you looked at the data? I mean the real data, USHCN, GISS or the AMSRE satellite data?

Have you read about, or even heard about the dustbowl era of the 30's?

Are you familiar with the 'adjustments' done to the data?

Or do you just take somebody's word for it?

happydayfortennis
happydayfortennis

Everyone knows that science works, unless it happens to disagree with your religious or political beliefs. In that case, science is elitist and bogus, and we really shouldn't trust scientific studies.

Nonaffiliated
Nonaffiliated

 What would you think about geoengineering?  Perhaps we could cheaply change the reflectivity of our atmosphere to lower temperatures. 

Jardin J
Jardin J

The few who admit it is happening claim that the problem is sun spots or the Earth's natural cycle, meaning that we should not change our consumption or invest in solutions because it's not our fault.

Eva F. Stever
Eva F. Stever

The geo-engineering required is enormous, untested, and fraught with problematic side-effects.  Would be cheaper and healthier to put a price on carbon and start aggressively reducing CO2 emissions. http://ChanceReach4Million.blo...