The dust bowls of the 1950s were worse than the famous dust bowls of the Great Depression. The conditions for a new dust bowl are happening again, only this time we’ve cut down the trees so that 27 ton tractors can plow for miles before having to turn around — there are few trees to block the dust from flying or being washed away in storms. You need six inches of topsoil to grow food, and Iowa has gone from an average of 18 inches to 9 inches over the past century — this used to take civilizations 1,500 years to accomplish, but we’ve done it in record time.
We’ve also drained the Ogallala aquifer (174,000 square miles, one of the world’s largest) so much, that it’s too expensive to pump to the surface in many areas. Which has led to millions of acres of farm land being abandoned. This is all land that that could start to blow away and overlay good, prime farmland further East.
John Eligon. 19 Jul 2012. Widespread Drought is Likely to Worsen. New York Times.
The drought that has settled over more than half of the continental United States this summer is the most widespread in more than half a century. And it is likely to grow worse.
The latest outlook released by the National Weather Service on Thursday forecasts increasingly dry conditions over much of the nation’s breadbasket, a development that could lead to higher food prices and shipping costs as well as reduced revenues in areas that count on summer tourism.
NYT image “Drought’s Footprint” source National Climactic Data Center, national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration