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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

America’s Worst Droughts

America’s Worst Droughts

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in New England, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, or one of a handful of other small pockets of moisture, you’re probably experiencing drought conditions this summer. Across most of the United States, and parts of Canada and Mexico, things are hot, dry, and uncomfortable. Crops are withering in the ground. Farmers are struggling. Food prices are on the rise. And there is no end in sight.

Just about every year, some region of North America experiences drought conditions. Annual losses from drought average $6 to $8 billion, with some major drought events impacting the economy by up to five times that amount. Occasionally — once every 20 to 30 years or so — these droughts last more than a couple of months and affect more than a small geographical area, rising to the level of a national disaster.

In the history of the 20th Century, there were at least three major drought events that reached emergency proportions, and a handful of others that were devastating on a smaller regional scale.

The Dust Bowl: 1933-1940
The Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s couldn’t have come at a worse time. At the height of the Great Depression, when farmers were forced to produce more and more just to keep up with their mounting financial burdens, a series of punishing droughts dried up America’s heartland. The moisture-deprived soil that had once grown much of the nation’s food crumbled and was picked up by the wind to form massive dust clouds that blocked out the sun for days at a time. Farmers, unable to pay their debtors, lost their land and moved westward in search of greener pastures. By the time the 1930s were over, 2.5 million people had migrated from the Plains states, many of them to California.

The Six-Year Drought: 1951-1956
The Depression and World War II were still fresh in Americans’ minds when the next major drought hit during the 1950s. Once again affecting the Great Plains, the Six-Year Drought came during a time of relative prosperity. Nevertheless, a 10-state area stretching from the Texas panhandle to the Rocky Mountains experienced its second major drought in less than 20 years. Temperatures above 100° F weren’t uncommon, and Dallas saw more than 50 such days during the summer of 1953. Some areas were hit even harder this time around than they had been during the Dust Bowl. By 1956, 244 of Texas’ 254 counties had been declared federal disaster areas.

The Three-Year Drought: 1987-1989
Thirty years after the six-year drought ended, another drought took hold, this time affecting areas farther north than the previous two had. Lasting three years and covering 30% of the nation, the 1980s drought appears less extreme on paper than its two predecessors. However, it was not only the most costly drought, at $39 billion in related losses, but also the most costly natural disaster of any kind in U.S. history.

Are We Experiencing a New Dust Bowl?
As the U.S. enters a second season of drought conditions for much of the south central portion of the country, with dry conditions now spreading across much of the country, could we be on track for another drought of Dust Bowl proportions?

The parallels with the 1930s, with the nation in the grip of an ongoing economic downturn, are certainly undeniable, and the effects of an extended drought could be just as devastating. Unfortunately, there is currently no real way to know how long a drought will last until after it has ended.

Climatologists who have studied historic droughts using tree rings, lake basins, and other natural indicators say droughts like those seen in the 1930s and 1950s tend to occur two to three times per century, which means the 20th Century saw a normal amount of major droughts.

In fact, the last 500 years have seen at least one drought that was more extreme than anything we’ve experienced in the last century. A severe three-year drought during the 16th Century, when colonists from Europe were first settling in North America, is thought to have been responsible for the disappearance of the so-called “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island in present day North Carolina, and also caused difficulty for the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Scientists don’t know yet how frequently droughts of this magnitude occur.

No matter how long the current drought lasts, the impacts are already being felt. Even areas that are fortunate enough to have rain will likely experience the effects when the cost of everything from an ear of corn to a pound of beef to a tank of gas rises over the coming weeks and months. Economists say the true cost of the current drought may not even be apparent for another year or more.

Lets all pray for rain.

30 comments

1 craig. { 09.02.12 at 11:39 am }

Melissa is right. All you global warming skeptics and naysayers need to stop complaining. You are getting exactly what you asked for.

2 Nightwatchman { 07.30.12 at 2:59 am }

Well, I live in Kansas. Seems like a pretty good wheat crop, though early. Corn(Burnt), Milo seems ok, Soy taking a beating. We have been having rain go around us here in the heartland. Seems that God is making a point….We need to pray! Turn from evil ways and so on……

3 Diane Bruso { 07.27.12 at 2:21 pm }

My prayer for rain (& ANYTHING) is: THY WILL BE DONE!!!

4 Preacher { 07.27.12 at 11:40 am }

Genesis 8:22 says “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”. Don’t give up hope. We know it’s tough right now, but look up, your redemption draweth nigh. Look to the one who can give the rain (remember Elijah prayed after 3 years- 1Kngs 18:1). We are certainly praying for all those hurting right now. Please don’t quit now. We still need you. But more than anything, we need Jesus.

5 Amil Baker { 07.26.12 at 7:51 pm }

Looking at the National Weather, they think that “El Nino” is coming about September, at this time there is a beginning of a change from “El Nina” to “El Nino”. The change allows the midwest to be hot and dry, where in the south we have the rain that we have not had in the past two years. I don’t have the figures for 2010 off the top of my head but 2011 was 17inches, this year we have received 27 inches to date. Good luck to the mid west and PRAY FOR RAIN. We know how to do that in Texas.

Amil

amil

6 Kaye { 07.26.12 at 3:09 pm }

Nothing like mass deprivation to get human attention. America learns nothing when the “good times are rolling” except to max out appetites. waste! waste! ravage the earth, and never think of saving for a “dry day”. What we gonna do when we can’t run our shiny cars, because our water is all polluted from “fracturing ” for oil. Drink oil? We have to turn our attention to sustainability, and that means using our resources wisely. This globe is a schoolroom, not a playground, and we need to stop playing around!

7 Kaye { 07.26.12 at 2:56 pm }

Nothing like mass deprivation to get human attention. We learn nothing when the “good times are rolling” except to max out our appetites. Long baths everyday, stuff faces with rich food, indulge little ones so much they never get a whiff of hardship, waste! waste! ravage the earth, and never think of saving for a “dry day”. What we gonna do when we can’t run our shiny cars, because our water was polluted “fracturing ” for oil. Drink oil? Our Creator knows what selfish babies we are, and that we never learn except through pain, repetition,
and retrospection. We are in for another big lesson kids…

8 keller daniel { 07.26.12 at 12:39 am }

The earth is getting hotter, but it is not due to us. subdution in the sea .pull,s water into fissus in the ocean and cause co2 . Please look up dehydration of sea water !

9 JT { 07.25.12 at 7:16 pm }

Weather is cyclical. We were overdue, and I sure hope we are not entering a period similar or parallel to the 1930s, because guess what followed?

10 Nonnie { 07.25.12 at 6:32 pm }

I agree Linda, however not everyone has ears to hear and though they can predict the signs in the weather cannot understand spiritual issues.

11 Linda { 07.25.12 at 4:51 pm }

I think we need to be reminded of the passage of scripture in the Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles .7:14
GOD’S

12 Mike { 07.25.12 at 3:27 pm }

It is very disheartening to see the midwest, particularly where I live, relegate itself to little more than two seasons anymore. Fall and winter, my two favorite seasons, are no longer an option it seems. This hot drought is depressing as all get out.

13 CHERYL { 07.25.12 at 2:40 pm }

Our beautiful Native Americans have been a great help whenever they are asked to assist. I hope someone has thought to ask.

14 Brenda { 07.25.12 at 2:23 pm }

I think people in this country could greatly help themselves if we all learned how to garden again & become more self sufficient. The biggest thing that would help is for the federal government not having control over commercial crops & farmers in general. There needs to be a balance in what is being grown – ex: corn for ethanol – what a wasteful joke!

15 Jane { 07.25.12 at 1:56 pm }

Good ole Mother Nature hard at work here in northern Arkansas, haven’t mowed grass in two months, all burnt, young trees look dead, our small farm with cattle is about to end, pond dry , no grass, hay cost way to much, let alone sacks of feed, if you can even find any, can’t continue to water livestock from private well. Not usual for Spring and Summer .Never seen it this bad before, guess its time to sell and take a loss before lose more. Sniff, sniff, never know what tomorrow will bring, rain we hope and pray here, even thou the damage is done. Glad someone has water elsewhere. Can’t live without it ,thats for sure.

16 Harry { 07.25.12 at 11:55 am }

Send up some rockets from Florida. Whenever the Space Shuttle used to go up there would always be thunderstorms and rain afterward. Soldiers from the Civil War, WWI, and WWII used to say there were heavy rains after long artillery barrages.

17 Lara { 07.25.12 at 11:29 am }

I am a weather fanatic and love storms, both snow and thunderstorms, so the past year has been very disappointing to me. No snow last winter and only 3 claps of thunder so far this year. But, the thing that irritated me the most was one saturday night a few weeks ago, scattered storms rolled thru here, I am close to Kansas City, MO, and there was a girl on facebook complaining that it was freaking raining on her Saturday night plans. I swear, no matter what happens with anything, someone is always complaining. I bet she is going to enjoy the upcoming water restrictions due to lack of rain.

Yes, like someone here already suggested, wash your cars, windows, and make some lavish outdoor plans, as well as pray, and maybe something will give!! I’m hating this too so fingers crossed for some drastic changes very soon!

18 Jennifer { 07.25.12 at 10:29 am }

I rather enjoy dry autumns Melissa. That makes for a greater color show among the trees! As for summer? Ya, it sucks. But we can’t do anything about it so all we can do is deal with it. It’s rough on the farmers. That’s what bothers me the most. But even farmers know that there’s nothing that can be done and they don’t complain about it is much as some people.

19 Jane Hanlon { 07.25.12 at 10:25 am }

Murphy’s Law: Everyone pray, go wash their cars and windows, and I bet it’ll rain! Gotta find some humor in this because it’s getting to everyone. Esp to those of us who are elderly and disabled. Had a silver alert last nite in KCKs, an elderly lady with dementia wandered away from her home…Please pray for the family of Ruby Sweet. As of 10 pm last night they still hadn’t found her. She’d apparently done this b/4 but not for this long a period of time. She apparently lives with her son and was sitting out on her front porch for some breeze. Family members had been watching her from various vantage points and later in the day when one of them was checking on her she’d disappeared. Sad. I’m pretty sure this was heat related.

20 stephen { 07.25.12 at 10:20 am }

no matter what happens we always complain about something we cant change or fix we just have to wait it out!!!

21 Mary Ann { 07.25.12 at 10:06 am }

It is so hard to see the work of years vanish in floods or windstorms. Drought seems harder tho as it is protracted and relentless. It must be very hard to see all things around you shrivel. And maybe even harder to know that some of us are living in cooler and wetter circumstances. Yet we stand ready to help, those of us who are still blessed. Keep your chin up Melissa, the rains will come.

22 Sue Ann O'Neal { 07.25.12 at 9:53 am }

Continuing to pray for rain. My heart goes out to the farmers. Watching the ponds dry up and the everyday occurance of forest and grass fires breaks my heart. Yesterday, someones careless act of discarding a cigarette started a grass fire that burned a stockpike of hay bales. Everyone needs to pray for rain and be careful not to start a fire!

23 Tina { 07.25.12 at 9:39 am }

My suggestion to Melissa is to move to a location with a different climate. There are many places that are cold and wet. Even now. You may want to keep your complaining to yourself. I’m sure your doom and gloom attitude is driving the people around you crazy.

24 nana---x4 { 07.25.12 at 9:31 am }

BERT—we in Illlinois have a saying
wait a minute and the weather will change
summer-winter-spring or fall
what the weather will be–will be the weather>>>>
complaining does not help—its just how it is
as for the economy and how this drought will effect it
only time will tell—so either way its wait and see>>>>>

25 Ken { 07.25.12 at 9:13 am }

Yes, there is a reason the vegitation is drought resistant in Texas. This is nothing new. However, I have gotten more rain here in central texas in the last 9 months than in the previous 20, so I’m much happier than a year ago. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.

26 brooke { 07.25.12 at 9:00 am }

Melissa I know how you feel. This is really getting to me too. I find myself obsessing over the forecasts and looking for any sign of hope. It’s been two years of this in KS. I hope you get some relief soon. Our local meteorologist is saying we have to wait until September at the earliest to get an idea of the next weather pattern. Keep hope alive! I know it’s devastating but as predictable as the weather is, it’s even more unpredictable.

27 MIKE { 07.25.12 at 8:53 am }

Its is hot and dry everywhere this year. It is not un-common. Don’t blame farmers, blame “Wall Street” and the media. They are the ones love gloom and doom, ones it brings prices up, and if it bleeds its reads. Western Roman Empire had a great droughts through its almost 12 hundred year history. The Empire did not fall because of droughts but because of greed and the people. These things happen but we can prepare and save.

28 Brenda { 07.24.12 at 11:01 pm }

People act like this is the FIRST time this has happened. Its summer.. ok. I have to agree with Hope. Goodness gracious! I grew up in the 50s when summers were really hot. We didnt have air conditioning so we would sleep outside some nights. The drought of the 50s were really bad. Its hot, its dry, its weather. Do you think we can control how the weather goes? nope. These weather scientists trying to scare people “global warming global warming” its weather, this isnt climate. Tell me a summer that hasent been this hot! Think 2010, 2011, 1988, the 1930s

29 Hope { 07.24.12 at 9:58 am }

Jeeze, Melissa, chill! Take a pill! Sure, it’s hot…it’s dry. It’s summer! This, too, shall pass. And when it does, you’ll probably be complaining about it’s cold…it’s wet. Can we do anything about the weather? Let’s talk about something we can control…

30 Melissa { 07.23.12 at 2:03 am }

Im giving up on hope to see another wet fall and winter in the lower midwest. It will never cool down, it will never rain again. I probably wont be able to see the 4 seasons i once loved. Its summer year round now. Ive been praying and praying and praying but you can only hope for so long and now I just have to give up! My grass is dead, my flowers are dead, the farms are dead, EVERYTHING is dead!! im sick of 100 degree heat everyday. TOO LATE MOTHER NATURE, everybody here is ruined and devestated by whats happened this year. Everything is going wrong. Dont ever wish winter away, its good to have them around and we all took them for granted in the past years

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