Will 2013 Be the Driest Year Since the Dust Bowl?

When it comes to drought, Nebraska is the most at-risk U.S. state.

(Photo: Getty Images)
A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

If you thought 2012’s record-setting drought was a doozy, get ready for this summer: Climatologists are predicting 2013 will be even drier and hotter.

Costs of the 2012 drought were estimated at $50 billion, more than the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

In fact, we better get used to those photographs of dry, cracked river beds and dusty farm fields across the Midwest and Western states since it seems we’re heading into a parched period that experts compare to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

 

On top of those dry rivers and millions of acres of dead or dying farm fields, expect an increase in wildfires, lack of irrigation and water for livestock and flooding (when the snows melt or it does rain, the ground will be so dry it won’t be able to absorb it).

 

Last year was the hottest since record keeping began more than 100 years ago, with several weeks in a row of 100-plus degree days. Sixty-five percent of the country was in drought by the end of last summer. Costs of the 2012 drought were estimated at $50 billion, more than the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“Last year was bad enough, 54.2 percent of the contiguous United States experienced drought conditions, compared to 39 percent the year before,” chief climatologist Tom Karl told Inside Climate News.

 

Across the U.S. this summer, water predictions are very bleak, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting that “80 percent of seven states” are already in “severe drought.”

Which seven states? 24/7 Wall Street lists them (percentage of the state already in a severe drought):

1) Nebraska (100%)

2) Kansas (96.4%)

3) New Mexico (89.9%)

4) Colorado (89.0%)

5) South Dakota (86.3%)

6) Wyoming (83.7%)

7) Oklahoma (83.2%)

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center made its annual drought report public last week. On top of those seven states, it warns those living in Texas and the Pacific Northwest to expect far less rainfall than last year, as should California, the southern Rockies and the Florida panhandle.

But what's exactly at risk?

- Millions of acres of wheat, corn and soybeans could be lost. Less feed grown means higher prices for corn and hay for cattle, sometimes tripling in cost. The results will inevitably be more livestock put to death since they can’t be watered or fed (as they were last summer).  

- Anticipating the 2013 drought, many farmers didn’t even bother to plant wheat this spring.

- Hotter temps mean more and faster snowmelt, according to the NOAA report, creating perfect conditions for flooding along the Red and Souris rivers in North Dakota.

- Last summer barge traffic along the Mississippi ground to a halt because the river was so low; a coalition of mayors from towns along the river traveled to D.C. last week to lobby for funds to help keep the river in business.

- Emergency loans will have to be found to keep farmers and ranchers in business.

- Drought is not good news for the big cities of the West and Southwest either, since their major sources of water will be all but dried up.

“The bottom line is we need a big spring because we do not have the buffer of carryover we did coming into 2012,” climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center warned last week. “We have seen changes to our vulnerability to drought. More straws in the drink is putting more demand on a finite water source.”

 

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