Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.


- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Monday, September 03, 2007

To dust we shall return



Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. - George Santayana

Our current and very severe drought in Southern Indiana has for some reason made me think about the Dust Bowl days. The dust storms of the 30s began with intense heat... and drought. And the heat and the drought grew worse and worse, until the soil blew away.

Perhaps it is the sight of the huge, jagged cracks I see opening in my front yard... under the dry moss, beneath the yellowing trees. This is supposed to be a humid, damp area; we usually have big 'elephant ear' plants growing all across the forest floor at this time of the year, not dry crackling leaves and brown, dying plants.

And the dirt... is turning to dust.

As I walk across the increasingly common dry patches in the yard, little plumes of dust rise where my feet have tread... and I think of the dust storms that swept through Oklahoma, and swept away everything in their path: an entire way of life.



Our Local Drought


Perhaps my unease began when I saw large, jagged cracks opening in our front yard... under the now dry, brown moss, beneath the strangely yellowing trees. This is supposed to be a humid, damp area; we usually have big 'elephant ear' plants growing all across the forest floor at this time of the year, not dry crackling leaves and brown, dying plants.

And the dirt... is turning to dust.

Our region is extremely dependent on adequate rainfall; the survival of the wide variety of deciduous trees for which this area is famous (especially in Autumn,) depends on the rain from winter storms and summer thundershowers. Usually the forest floor is very lush and green at this time of the year.

But now the forest is dry and parched; the forest floor brown and dead. Leaves are turning prematurely yellow, the days are searingly hot without a cloud, anywhere in the sky, across the entire state. There seldom any rain in the forecast these days, and when storms do come into the area, they mysteriously slide to the north.

We have already lost some rather large saplings on our property; beautiful trees that towered over my head, but simply couldn't compete for groundwater with the larger trees beside them. Older trees seem to be withstanding the drought pretty well, but even medium-sized trees are now showing signs of stress; their leaves prematurely yellow. Some trees are also starting to show signs of disease and frequent attacks by insect pests. And when I drive into town, dead trees and plants now line the roadside.

We are having the worst drought in decades, after having the wettest winter in, well, decades. It is hotter than Hades most days, with strange dips in temperature at night (sometimes into the 40s.)

Add these to the increasingly long list of unusual weather occurrences in the past 12 months. We lost our fruit crop to a late, long freeze this spring (which wiped out the blossoms, and our winter wheat along with them.) The winter was so warm and wet that we saw swarms of mosquitoes on New Year's Day.

To experience all of these weather oddities within the same calendar year is unnerving. Record rainfall... followed immediately by drought? Climate change isn't a theory here; we can see it happening all around us, every day, as we scan the sky for any sign of rain.

From the Bloomington Herald Times:

About 40 percent of the state is in a “D2” stage of severe drought, National Weather Service meteorologist Logan Johnson said. That determination is made by the weather service along with other agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and fire and weather agencies, he said. They’re looking at things such as the amount of rain, the status of deep groundwater wells and soil moisture for the weekly rating.

Why isn’t it raining? Persistent upper level high pressure systems are keeping away the cold fronts that are necessary for rain. That makes precipitation spotty, Johnson said. For example, they’ve had reports of rain in the northern half of a county but none in the southern.

“The ridge is just so strong it keeps that weather pattern,” he said. “And Indiana drought years typically come with this same weather pattern.”

'Wacky weather,' flooding and large areas of drought now affect much of the country, from California and Arizona through the Midwest and South. While some portions of the country are receiving so much rain that they have experienced record flooding, other areas are parched with ever-worsening drought.

And sometimes the difference between the two extremes is a single county.




Map from the US Drought Monitor


Odd Weather Patterns in the Central Midwest

To give you an idea of how crazy the weather has been across the Midwest this summer, here is some recent data from NOAA.

The current drought report from southern Ohio, from NOAA:

HYDROLOGIC OUTLOOK NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE WILMINGTON OH
605 PM EDT THU AUG 30 2007

...EXTREME DROUGHT CONDITIONS NOW EXPANDING INTO KENTUCKY AND SOUTHERN OHIO...WITH SEVERE DROUGHT CONDITIONS OVER SOUTHEAST INDIANA...

...VERY LITTLE CHANCE OF RAIN IN THE FORECAST...

ESPECIALLY IN AREAS NEAR THE OHIO RIVER...AUGUST HAS BEEN A RECORD SETTING MONTH FOR TEMPERATURE. THE CINCINNATI/NORTHERN KENTUCKY AIRPORT HAS SET A NEW RECORD FOR MOST DAYS IN A MONTH AT OR ABOVE 90 DEGREES. THERE HAVE BEEN 25 DAYS OF 90 DEGREE OR WARMER HIGH TEMPERATURES AT CINCINNATI...INCLUDING 5 DAYS WHICH HAVE REACHED AT LEAST 100 DEGREES. THIS HAS BEEN COMBINED WITH ONLY 0.53 INCHES OF RAIN FOR AUGUST...WHICH IS 3.03 INCHES BELOW NORMAL.

SUCH EXTREME CONDITIONS HAVE RESULTED IN AN INTRODUCTION OF D3...OR EXTREME DROUGHT...INTO FAR SOUTHERN OHIO AND NORTHERN KENTUCKY. WITH LITTLE TO NO RAIN IN THE FORECAST OVER THE NEXT 7 DAYS...THE D3 CATEGORY WILL LIKELY EXPAND FURTHER WEST INTO INDIANA NEXT WEEK.

WHILE NORTHERN OHIO AND INDIANA EXPERIENCED RECORD FLOODING OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS...MANY AREAS SOUTH OF DAYTON AND COLUMBUS RECEIVED LITTLE TO NO RAINFALL.

OHIO CORN CROPS ARE EXPECTED TO YIELD ABOUT 20 TO 30 PERCENT LESS THAN NORMAL...ACCORDING TO THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY EXTENSION OFFICE. MUCH OF THESE DECLINES ARE DUE TO DROUGHT IN SOUTHERN OHIO... THOUGH SOME WILL BE A RESULT OF THE RECENT FLOODING IN NORTHERN OHIO. GENERALLY FROM 20 TO 25 PERCENT OF OHIO`S SOYBEAN AND CORN CROPS ARE RATED POOR TO VERY POOR CONDITION. ACROSS KENTUCKY...25 PERCENT OF CORN AND NEARLY 40 PERCENT OF SOYBEAN CROPS WERE REPORTED IN POOR TO VERY POOR CONDITION.

RAINFALL DEFICITS IN THE EXTREME DROUGHT AREA IS AS MUCH AS 12 TO 16 INCHES BELOW NORMAL FOR THE YEAR...WITH MOST LOCATIONS GENERALLY 8 TO 12 INCHES BELOW NORMAL FOR THE YEAR. EVEN WITH NORMAL RAINFALL THROUGH THE END OF 2007...THE CINCINNATI AREA WILL LIKELY FINISH WITHIN THE TOP TEN DRIEST YEARS ON RECORD.

STATISTICS FOR THE 3 MAJOR REPORTING STATIONS ARE LISTED BELOW:

THERE ARE THREE MAJOR CLIMATE STATIONS IN THE REGION: PORT COLUMBUS AIRPORT...DAYTON INTERNATIONAL...AND CINCINNATI/NORTHERN KENTUCKY. BELOW ARE THE OBSERVED RAINFALL VALUES AND THE DEPARTURE FROM NORMAL SINCE MAY 1...WHEN THE RAINFALL DEFICIT LARGELY BEGAN.

FOR CINCINNATI...DAYTON AND COLUMBUS...THE RAINFALL IS AS FOLLOWS:

STATION         SINCE MAY 1        INCHES BELOW NORMAL
CINCINNATI 5.12 11.32
DAYTON 10.33 5.19
COLUMBUS 11.93 4.26

Meanwhile, Kentucky is experiencing record heat:

From NOAA:

RECORD EVENT REPORT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE LOUISVILLE KY
945 AM EDT SAT SEP 1 2007


...LOUISVILLE KENTUCKY BREAKS SEVERAL MORE RECORDS IN AUGUST 2007...

THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE OF 85.0 DEGREES SET FOR AUGUST 2007 AT THE LOUISVILLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT SHATTERS THE OLD RECORD OF 83.0 PREVIOUSLY SET IN 1936.

THE 85.0 DEGREES ALSO MAKES IT THE HOTTEST MONTH EVER IN LOUISVILLE HISTORY...TOPPING THE PREVIOUS HIGH OF 84.2 DEGREES SET FOR JULY 1901.

And of course, Indiana:

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ISSUES THESE HYDROLOGIC OUTLOOK STATEMENTS ANY TIME A PORTION OF THE AREA IS CATEGORIZED AS SEVERE DROUGHT CONDITIONS...WHICH IS QUANTIFIED AS CATEGORY D2 ON THE DROUGHT MONITOR MAP. LOCALLY...THERE HAS BEEN WORSENING SINCE LATE MAY OVER THE REGION...WITH THE MOST EXTREME PRECIPITATION DEFICITS OVER SOUTHERN OHIO...NORTHERN KENTUCKY AND SOUTHEAST INDIANA.

LOOKING AT OTHER INDICATORS...MUCH OF THE UNREGULATED STREAMFLOW ACROSS SOUTHEAST INDIANA...NORTHERN KENTUCKY AND SOUTHERN AND WESTERN OHIO ARE RUNNING IN THE 10TH TO 24TH PERCENTILE. THIS DATA IS REPORTED BY THE US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

MOST AREA WATER SUPPLY RESERVOIRS AND WELL LEVELS WERE RUNNING TYPICALLY ABOUT ONE FOOT BELOW NORMAL...BUT HARSHA LAKE ON THE EAST FORK OF THE LITTLE MIAMI WAS RUNNING 5 FEET BELOW THE NORMAL SUMMER POOL LEVEL.

FOR THE NEXT WEEK OVER THE IMPACTED AREA...LITTLE TO NO RAINFALL IS FORECAST. ONLY A SLIGHT POSSIBILITY OF RAIN IN THE FORM OF ISOLATED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS IS EXPECTED DURING THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK. WHILE A SLIGHTLY BETTER CHANCE FOR RAIN IS EXPECTED IN THE 8 TO 14 DAY PERIOD...THIS TOO WILL LIKELY BE IN THE FORM OF SCATTERED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS.

And while the southern counties of Indiana are parched, and our trees are dying, the northern part of Indiana was flooding only a week ago:

RECORD EVENT REPORT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
0830 AM EDT SAT SEP 1 2007

...RECORD MONTHLY RAINFALL SET AT SOUTH BEND...

8.88 INCHES OF RAINFALL WAS RECORDED AT SOUTH BEND FOR THE MONTH OF AUGUST. THIS BREAKS THE OLD RECORD OF 8.30 INCHES SET IN 1979.

FOR SOUTH BEND THIS RANKS AS THE 7TH WETTEST MONTH ON RECORD AND BRINGS THE SUMMER TOTALS TO THE 4TH WETTEST EVER ON RECORD.

TEMPERATURE WISE THIS RANKED AS THE 13TH WARMEST AUGUST ON RECORD.

...MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS FOR FORT WAYNE...

9.69 INCHES OF RAINFALL WAS RECORDED AT FORT WAYNE FOR THE MONTH OF AUGUST. THIS RANKS AS THE SECOND WETTEST AUGUST ON RECORD AND WAS THE 5TH WETTEST MONTH EVER ON RECORD.





So no... we don't believe in climate change here in the Midwest, can't imagine why we would. We're much more likely to believe ExxonMobile and Bush.

All sarcasm aside, one has to wonder. Are we headed back in time? If these crazy weather patterns continue (and they show no signs of ever returning to normal,) can we even survive here? Can we grow food? Will we have enough drinking water?

Can it happen again?

So what caused the Dust Bowl in the 1930s? NASA scientists think they may now know the answer to that question... but we won't like it. Turns out only a slight change in sea temperature can cause a shift in the jet stream, which affects whether we get normal rainfall, droughts or flooding. And we already have both higher ocean temperatures and a shift in jet stream.

Scientists recently discovered that the ocean temperatures in the 1930's were unstable, which affected the jet stream and the normal flow of precipitation across the United States:

Ocean Temperatures in the 1930's Were Unstable

Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center recently used a computer model and satellite data to examine climate over the past century. In the study, cooler than normal tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and warmer than normal tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures created ideal drought conditions due to the unstable sea surface temperatures. The result was dry air and high temperatures in the Midwest from about 1931 to 1939.

The Normal Supply of Moist Air From the Gulf of Mexico Was Reduced.

Changes in sea surface temperatures create shifts in weather patterns. One way is by changing the patterns in the jet stream. In the 1930's, the jet stream was weakened causing the normally moisture rich air from the Gulf of Mexico to become drier. Low level winds further reduced the normal supply of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and reduced rainfall throughout the US Midwest.

The Jet Stream Changed Course.


The jet stream normally flows west over the Gulf of Mexico and turns northward pulling up moisture and dumping rain onto the Great Plains. As the jet stream weakened and changed course, it traveled farther south than normal starving the Midwest of precious rain.




BioEd Online goes into even more detail:

Megadroughts

The Great Plains get most of their rain in spring and summer. The westerly 'trade' winds that flow around the equator normally carry moisture westwards from the Gulf of Mexico over the United States, keeping the Plains well watered.

But a warmer Atlantic heats the air just above the sea surface, making it less dense and allowing it to rise, explains Bamber. This opens the door for cooler, high-pressure air to sweep eastwards off continental America. So the wet air over the Gulf flows eastwards instead.

The same trade winds usually sweep westwards over the continent and the Pacific, picking up moisture from that ocean as they go, before doubling back and carrying their watery cargo back towards the United States in the upper atmosphere. A cooler Pacific disrupts this cycle, so that the air returning to the United States is dryer, flows at a lower altitude, and is less likely to bring rain to the Plains.

Schubert believes his team's computer model should work just as well for the Sahel region, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, where changes in Atlantic and Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures are creating droughts.

At the moment, the model can give about six months to a year advance warning of a drought. Including deep-ocean temperature measurements in the calculations could improve its predictive power, says Schubert.

Modern farming practices, such as improved irrigation, would moderate the effects of any future droughts. "But the basic weather that caused the Dust Bowl will almost certainly happen again," Schubert says. "Over the last 500 years, we've had these kinds of megadroughts about once or twice every century. Historically, these events are very likely."

Megadroughts are a normal, natural weather cycle. If we can expect to get one or two every century, then we are probably due. The big question of course is how drastic these megadroughts will be when we throw climate change into the mix. Hurricanes also go through natural cycles, but we have seen an increase in the number of category 5 hurricanes due to the warming of the oceans. Are we in danger of experiencing an epic national drought, made worse by the unpredictable effects of climate change?

Current (2007)



Dust Bowl (1934)



History has a strange way of repeating itself.

If we attack Iran, we face a possibility of another World War. The stock market is edging closer and closer to disaster, and possibly a crash. And meanwhile, floods and droughts have brought us face to face with shades of danger to come: the epic disaster faced by our grandparents' generation.

If we continue to spew greenhouse gases into the air and refuse to address our current changing weather, there is no telling what will happen; we are literally playing with fire, flood, monster hurricanes, megadroughts and global devastation.


The one thing we seem to be missing... an FDR waiting in the wings to rescue us.

Al Gore has the qualifications and the vision to fill that role. He could pull us all together and move us in a positive direction, and he would definitely surround himself with the best and the brightest (as well as people who understand compassion.)

But Gore has 'fallen out of love with politics.'

I guess that leaves us at the mercy of those who haven't lost their love for government corruption, corporate kowtowing and pork. I frankly don't know how we will get through all of this without a brilliant statesman at the helm: a real leader.

We can maybe still pull out of our collision course with Iran, and somehow pull out of our Wall Street crisis. Although unlikely under our current administration, it is still possible to avoid these calamities. But in the end, Mother Nature will etch the final wording on our collective epitaph.

We have done our great damage here; and given a choice of changing our destructive behavior or continuing down this same, reckless road... we chose short term greed over long-term survival. Now nature - with all of her normal weather patterns juiced up on the steroids of climate change - will decide if our species will survive... or perish.



For more information about regional drought, see the following resources:

Climate Prediction Center - U.S. Drought Assessment
The NOAA Drought Drought Information Center
The U.S. Drought Monitor

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1 Comments:

Anonymous steve said...

I grew up in northern Indiana. Over the past 20 years, I've seen the rich farmland of that area bulldozed to create strip malls and planned communities. Without an abundance of farm land, there is little chance that less polluting bio-fuels will become widely available. This is all a vicious circle.

Thanks for the great research

8:01 PM  

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