According to this week’s Drought Monitor, the ongoing historic drought, made worse by global warming, still grips a large swath of the United States despite cooler temperatures and two rain systems sweeping through the central US.
Overall, US drought coverage fell to 62% of the contiguous US, a 2% fall from last week and a three percent fall from the maximum drought area reached this year. However, large swaths of the US and, in particular, US farmland are still struggling under drought. Though some areas on the eastern fringes of the larger drought zone saw improvement, other areas such as South Dakota and Nebraska saw intensifying dryness.
Reports from farmers this week also showed that the winter wheat crop had been put at risk due to ongoing drought conditions. Usually, cooler temperatures and rains bring a respite to drought conditions during this time of year. However, a fall dryness is allowing drought to maintain its grip over much of the country. Currently, over 69 percent of the areas normally planted for winter wheat are suffering from some level of drought. Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana have been particularly hard hit. Seed germination is well behind schedule in most regions and many farmers are not willing to take the risk of planting in such dry conditions. The result is a major risk to US wheat crops after a difficult corn planting season across the US.
Under current drought conditions, the US is now consuming more food than it produces. This rare event is having widespread impact on world food markets. Overall world food security has been dealt a sever blow since the early 2000s when forward food supplies were higher than 104 days. But six of the past eleven years have seen extreme weather conditions that resulted in the world consuming more food than it produced. As a result, forward food supply has fallen, on average, to 74 days. Recently, the UN noted that the world’s food markets were currently strained to the limit and couldn’t bear any more ‘unexpected events.’ But a major unexpected event continues apace over most of the US.
Climate scientists are showing that such dry conditions will likely grow worse over the coming years if both the US and the world fail to begin to reduce carbon emissions. Sadly, some drought will likely happen in the coming decades even if carbon emissions are rolled back. But the devastation that is likely to occur if carbon emissions continue on their current track is unconscionable. Climate models show that both large swaths of the US and much of Europe become as dry as north Africa. This devastation to major productive regions would be very damaging to the world’s food security and likely result in major regional and global upheavals. Yet this condition, which is starting now and which will grow worse over time, is being largely ignored by the world’s leaders. In particular, the US has one political party that wholesale denies the impacts of global warming. This denial is as destructive to our farmers as it is poisonous to our political climate. If we are to deal rationally with these problems and, likely, if we are to survive as a nation, this self-destructive, brutish and and small-minded denial must end.
We have entered the gates of a crisis and we need all hands to be alert and ready to defend the ship, not knocking holes in the hull.