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Epic ‘Dust Bowl Of 2012′ Expands Again

By Joe Romm on September 30, 2012 at 11:30 am

"Epic ‘Dust Bowl Of 2012′ Expands Again"

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The latest weekly Drought Monitor update set another grim record. The brutal U.S. drought expanded to 65.45% of the contiguous U.S. — the highest ever in the Monitor’s 12-year history. The previous record was 64.8% — set just last week.

In the third quarter alone, crop production dropped $12 billion “due to this summer’s severe heat and drought.”  The drop in farm inventories was so sharp in the last quarter that it wiped 0.2% off of U.S. GDP in the latest revision.

In Texas, the drought has killed more than 300 million trees. Nearly 98% of Nebraska is in extreme to exceptional drought — 3 months ago, none of it was!

Climate Central explains:

The drought is the worst to strike the U.S. since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s and lengthy droughts of the 1950s. It came on suddenly and largely without warning, and although the main trigger was most likely the pattern of water temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the drought was exacerbated by extremely hot temperatures during the spring and summer. Climate studies have shown that the odds of severe heat waves are increasing due to manmade climate change.

As I wrote in July, “We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming.” The WashPost reported in August:

The United States will suffer a series of severe droughts in the next two decades, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Moreover, global warming will play an increasingly important role in their abundance and severity, claims Aiguo Dai, the study’s author.

His findings bolster conclusions from climate models used by researchers around the globe that have predicted severe and widespread droughts in coming decades over many land areas…

“We can now be more confident that the models are correct,” Dai said, “but unfortunately, their predictions are dire.”

For more on what the models have been saying, see “James Hansen Is Correct About Catastrophic Projections For U.S. Drought If We Don’t Act Now.” I’ll do a post on Dai’s latest work in October.

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23 Responses to Epic ‘Dust Bowl Of 2012′ Expands Again

  1. Jack Burton says:

    I live in the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is boreal forest country. I see by the map we are abnormally dry, this is true!
    Rain has become less frequent by an order of magnitude, but we often make up for it by torrential rainfall events. We have had no rain for months and then extreme events. Including a 12+ inches in 24 hours, some place got upwards of 20 others 10. In any case, the weather we regularly experience is now characteristic of what global warming predicts. Forest fires have been on the increase for a decade and wind blow downs of wide swaths of forest have occurred a number of different places. Winter comes later and spring comes earlier.
    I read a prediction all the way back in the 80′s that this area for boreal forest would become grass land in time due to global warming. I can believe this as the forest is under more and more stress. This fall the colors are mostly browns as dry leaves don’t go through the bright color stages.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I see something along the lines that the authorities in the UK know that the intensity of precipitation will dramatically increase in the UK, with greater floods (which have already become more frequent recently). They, apparently, are loathe to inform the public (as if they cannot see the facts themselves)because they might ‘panic’. It seems to me that a little panic at the moment might be quite therapeutic. It might concentrate a few minds, as with the prospect of being hanged in the morning.

  2. Joe,

    Given these facts, and conditions in the Arctic, it is obvious to me, at least, that the climate has flipped into a new state — there won’t be any going back. What should we tell people? Insulate their homes and push for a carbon tax? It seems like last year’s solutions are now passé. Any ideas Joe? Anybody?

    • Jack Burton says:

      I think there is a shortage if ideas because this is clearly a global problem, meaning every industrialized nation must be brought on board for any possible solution. And I think we all know energy producing nations are going to be giant road blocks and giant energy consuming states will also be giant road blocks. Given that, and the huge denial community, who deny based on political and religious grounds. This leaves us in a position that allows for minimal or no acknowledgement among the real powers that be that we have a problem and must confront it.
      Look at Canada as a simple example. A very progressive first world nation with an actively engaged and well educated population. Yet their political leaders are going full blast to develop Tar Sands and ship the resultant thick oil down to the USA for refining and use. James Hanson makes clear that Tar Sands as an energy source are a game changer. Game over to be precise!
      Now China is building coal fired power plants like there is no tomorrow, and using dirty coal on top of that. To help China, Australia is breaking into a massive store of coal and hope to gain economically by the selling of vast amounts to China. Another game changer.
      To be blunt, the only thing I see that will slow this mad rush to burn every last fossil fuel we can obtain, is the terrible proposition that an economic collapse and wide scale war will break out and totally tank the world economy. This is nearly a doomsday scenario. But for political, religious and resource reasons, I see the world heading in this direction. If not, then we still face a massive world wide rush to develop economically on the foundation of fossil fuels. This will bring on a climate disaster that nobody can say will not be an event that brings on war and economic collapse.
      Who among us has a scenario that transfers to the entire world moving fast and hard to change the energy use and energy sources that power the modern world. Nobody I know of has come up with even the most unlikely scenario that gets control of fossil fuel burning. The deniers like to call people who take global warming seriously as scare mongers and gloom and doomers. Well, I think that we who hold that position are clear thinking, realistic and well informed. It is a gloom and doom scenario, we already see it coming! Give it a decade, god help us by the year 2022!

      • Jack,

        I’m very much with you on this. I have proposed what I think is a workable three-step solution involving 1) energy efficiency, 2) biosequestration (with biochar as the end product of the process) and, 3) “appropirate technology” meaning mostly CSP/distributed renewables for developed countries and solar cookers and the like for developing countries. All of the solutions are accessible and ready to roll, with a minimal amount of capital input that would creats many jobs.

        But, nobody’s listening. Those of us who follow climate change can clearly see what’s going on. But most of the world’s nations and populations are dangerously behind the curve.

        And honestly, I’m afaid it might be too late for those stratigies to make much difference, even if they were totally and wholeheartedly adopted tomorrow morning. The arctic ice is a goner, and less albedo, more methane from permafrost and clathrates and less biosequestration due to droughts and crop failures will follow quickly. Also, historic CO2 emmisions alone can push us past 3ºC without any additional input. And what are the chances that we’ll turn around the use of fossil fuels, the main assets of megacorps and even many countries?

        So, back to my original question. Do we tell people to fight for a carbon tax, or start learning (non-violent) survival skills?

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          “most of the world’s nations and populations are dangerously behind the curve” – who do you think has been campaigning most strongly at the COP meetings for a global agreement? Many of the world’s poorest people and island nations who are currently being washed out of their homes, joined with such as the EU and S American states, certainly not the USA, ME

      • Frik Linde says:

        Jack, you are 100% correct and your views reflect mine totally. I am the ultimate optimist, but on climate change I see no solution – just gloom and doom.

        To respondent Philip I say: A carbon tax won’t cut it, survival skills will stretch the lives of some of us homo sapiens somewhat, but not far enough. Extinction of our species is on the cards!

    • Omega Centauri says:

      Its not that technically viable solutions don’t exist, many on this list would be willing to share their conception. This is really a problem of psychology and politics, and power. Especially the power of those who have ownership of the fossil resources, and seek to maximize their own net worth. With an aggressive program of conservation, renewables, and geo-engineering we could stave off this problem. But, we won’t.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    The Climate Prediction Center forecasts higher than average temperatures in the next twelve months for most of the lower 48, with the exception of the Deep South that might have as much as five months of colder than normal conditions. Ominously, abnormally high temperatures are forecast for northern Alaska.

    This forecast casts some doubt on whether US agriculture could get an El Niño driven recovery from drought in 2013. The forecast doesn’t offer a reprieve from the Arctic sea ice death spiral, either.

    • Jack Burton says:

      I understand the developing El Nino has weakened and may be one of the weakest El Nino events of recent times. If so, then the rains to be expected in part of the USA due to El Nino conditions may not develop.
      I am interested to hear the predictions for this winter. Last winter in the upper Midwest we simply had no winter. It was mild in the extreme. If this holds true again, then we can expect little snow and this acts to keep us warm and to being an early spring as well. Dark ground soaks up solar radiation and feed back to keep the winter warm. Just like arctic sea ice. The same hold true on land. More feedback favoring warming!

  4. BBHY says:

    We have to call them out. When Mitt Romney and his T-winger buddies say that we don’t what is causing it, we need to call them out.

    Of course we know what is causing this! We knew the cause before it even happened because this was predicted decades ahead of time! Hansen’s 1981 paper has turned out to be a remarkably accurate prediction of our current climate.

    We must no longer accept the denialists. It is time to get serious and demand action.

    Jim Lehrer is the moderator of the debate on Wednesday night. Contact him and demand that he ask about climate change, and not limit the topic to one single question:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/letters.html

  5. Mond from Oz says:

    What do we tell the children?

    • Joan Savage says:

      I tell my two that I’ll do anything I can to help.

    • Paul Magnus says:

      I tell them I run a couple of FB blogs about Global Warming…
      I tell them I’ll only fly for emergencies…
      I tell them I am fasting for Climate Awareness…
      I tell them I am going to an activist camp…

      It won’t be enough unfortunately… no one is listening.

  6. There are multiple views of what is coming for agriculture in the US. On Friday, Public TV Station KQED San Francisco in conjunction with the Center of Investigative Reporting ran a 30 minute segment entitled Heat and Harvest. We know what is coming…. but action does not follow knowledge. View it here: http://science.kqed.org/quest/video/heat-and-harvest/

  7. Eric Anderson says:

    The answer is localization on a broad scale. If WE do it, the leaders will no choice to follow. Personally, myself and many of my community members are beginning a Transition Town that focuses on a post-carbon based society. Find more out here: http://www.transitionnetwork.org

  8. Spike says:

    We get the occasional brief glimpses of reality in the UK press

    http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Environment/article1137811.ece

    UCLs Global droughtMonitor shows continuing severe drought in southern Russia, central Asia and parts of SE and southern Europe.

    But some far sighted people are trying hard to get the public aware of reality:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/sep/30/50-months-climate-change

  9. Nancy Mendenhall says:

    I live in Nome, Alaska. Many days this year it has been as warm or even warmer in Prudhoe Bay, which is on the Arctic Ocean, than it is in Nome, which is on the west coast.

  10. Jurgen says:

    It is far too late for any effective mitigation of large scale climate change including positive feedback processes already under way. Technology approaches are out of the question as we are running out of energy to fuel even the existing technological systems we have, never mind geo-engineering. Political change processes are out of the question as societies degrade in the chaos of a permanent crisis induced by the end of growth and the limits of resources. In particular the aggregate resource of food (oil+water+stable climate+nutrients = food) will become too expensive to allow functioning societies under climate change scenarios.
    At http://www.atamai.org.nz we have chosen a path of developing appropriate responses – sorry, no solutions – in a setting of relative security. We believe any viable options must be based on localised, resilient and small scale human settlements.

    JH

  11. Mike X says:

    I’m surprised that Washington State doesn’t have at least a yellow tint. Except for a few brief rain showers, we’re in an extended drought west of the Cascades. In the past two months, we’ve had only about 15% of our normal rainfall. I think eastern Washington is worse off than we are.