Drought Grows on Eve of Winter, 200 Mile Stretch of Mississippi Close to Shut Down

According to reports from the US Drought Monitor, a historic drought plaguing large swaths of the country since spring has again grown larger and more intense. Total areas under drought conditions are, once more, above 60% of the contiguous United States. This is about a 1.5 percent increase over last week’s drought measure. Severe and exceptional drought, the worst conditions measured, expanded to cover fully 19 percent of the contiguous US, also an increase of about 1.5 percent over last week’s measurement.

Hardest hit areas remain in or near the nation’s breadbasket. South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are states currently suffering the most from ongoing drought. Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Georgia, and Nevada are also feeling strong direct impacts.

Forecasts for the next few months show a persisting drought that will likely pose a continuing threat to US crops throughout the winter and on into spring, possibly extending again into summer. The potential for conditions to worsen, again, in Texas should be cause for watchful concern as the season progresses. Texas is still recovering from the extreme drought of 2010-2011. A second blow during 2013 would prove very harmful to the state’s agriculture.

Over the past few weeks, the US wheat crop has taken a severe hit from the persistent and now re-emerging drought. Crop conditions, as of about a week ago, were the worst seen in 27 years. Risks are currently very high that the US wheat harvest for this year will be substantially lower, resulting in higher food prices at home and an intensifying food crisis abroad.

In Missouri, an area which felt strong impacts to its corn crops before drought somewhat abated for the state, Mississippi River levels are again low enough to warrant concern of a shut-down. Annually, the Army Corps of Engineers cuts off river flows to the Mississippi in order to ensure adequate reservoir storage for next year and to protect against flooding from melt run-off. This year’s shut down may bring river levels as low as 6 feet, which would effectively cut off traffic along a 200 mile stretch of waterway. If this happens, as much as 7 billion dollars worth of grain may be stranded up-river. Much of this grain goes to international markets. Such a closure would both result in damages to local economies as well as, potentially, food shortages and increasing prices abroad.

The culprit for this lingering and increasingly damaging drought is likely a blocking high that has continued to emerge over the nation’s heartland, fixing the weather pattern there to one that is both hotter and dryer than normal. These huge dips and swells in the Jet Stream are spurred by eroding sea ice boundaries in the Arctic which result in large shifts to the circumpolar winds. In turn, these wind changes alter the Jet Stream, making the emergence of blocking patterns like the one enhancing the current US drought far more likely.

Climate models have also predicted much drier conditions for the US West as global temperatures rise from an average range of .6 degrees Celsius higher than normal to as much as 2 degrees Celsius higher than normal by 2040-2050. It is likely that we began to see this climate-change induced drying during the early 2000s as average global temperatures reached .6 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average. Average global temps are now around .8 degrees Celsius higher and continuing to inch upward, so the US West is likely to experience periods of intensifying drought through the 2010s and worsening into the 2020s. By the 2030s and 2040s far worse conditions can only be avoided via large-scale curtailment of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.freep.com/usatoday/article/1721817?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/Drought/

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Drought to Continue Through February; Winter Crops Hit Hard

An eight and a half month long drought, which scientists have linked to human caused climate change, continues to ravage the US heartland. This week, total area affected by drought remains steady at 59% of the contiguous US, with some minor improvements in the Eastern Midwest even as areas in the Southeast and West grew drier.

Losses to US farmers also continue to worsen. This year’s corn crop was cut by 13 percent and conditions for the US wheat crop are now the worst in 27 years. Conditions for the current winter wheat crop continued to deteriorate this week, with only 36% of the crop now rated in excellent to good condition. Meanwhile, US livestock levels have dropped to their lowest number in 39 years.

Keith Kisling, 65, noted in a Bloomberg report:

“It’s drier than I can ever remember and I’ve been farming for 40 years. A lot of wheat hasn’t emerged yet, and some are up but they’re spotty because they didn’t get any rain. It’s gotten progressively worse.”

Another farmer from the same report said:

“The dust storm we had in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago, some of that seed got blown out and we had to replant. And we’ve had such high temperatures. We have no moisture or limited moisture. What little soil moisture we had in the subsoil, those high temperatures will pull that out.”

Unfortunately, the forecast is for persisting US drought through February with some areas worsening and other areas showing slight abatement. The areas under the gun remain the US West and a smaller section of the US Southeast, centering on Georgia.

Such a long-running drought produces a growing risk that dry conditions will extend into summer to threaten US corn, soy, and sorghum crops again this year. Worldwide, drought conditions are also impacting crops in Europe and Russia.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-16/drought-expected-to-persist-through-february-in-great-plains

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-14/cattle-grazing-wheat-fields-to-decline-as-drought-cuts-prospects.html

 

 

 

The Price of Climate Change Denial: Drought to Cost $50 Billion, Increasingly Extreme Weather in Our Future.

The drought currently affecting the heartland is having a wide range of economic impacts. It is constraining river traffic, slowing trade and increasing shipping costs even on America’s largest waterways. Impacts to crops continue, with US production likely to significantly fall even after a growing season that included the greatest land area ever planted. Wells have run dry in many counties across the central US, forcing many to pay for water to be shipped in.

But in the end, those who will pay most are the American people. Food prices will continue to increase and fuel prices will likely be pushed higher due to constraints on US ethanol production.

In all, some sources are estimating that this drought could cost the US as much as $50 billion dollars. And if we are making a tally for climate change we can add in the cost of fires and extreme weather like the Derecho earlier this year. We can also add in the cost of invasive species, like the pine and ash bore beetles. In total, we will likely see impacts this year alone, without any other unforeseen impacts, around the $100 billion mark. This is a hefty price to pay for an already expensive fossil fuel addiction.

In context, this is the second severe drought in as many years. Last year’s drought impacted Texas and Oklahoma, killing 500 million trees and 100,000 cattle. And in the middle of the last decade, the southeast experienced a historic drought that lead to a water war between Georgia and Florida. In 2006, the US experienced a deadly heatwave only to be struck again by a much more intense heatwave this year. Internationally, Russia experienced a terrible drought and heatwave in 2010 that killed 56,000 people and resulted in epic fires raging across that country. Australia suffered from a years-long drought that finally broke at the end of the last decade. In 2003, Europe experienced a heatwave that killed over 70,000 people.

According to NASA scientists, these are the kinds of extreme events that we can expect as a result of global warming. In fact, James Hansen has noted that the events we are experiencing now would not have happened with such frequency and intensity without the added forcing provided by global warming.

“But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic,” Hansen stated in a recent editorial to the Washington Post. “My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”

Hansen is often derided by global warming deniers as being the most alarming of the global warming alarmists. But if Hansen, by his own admission, was being too optimistic, then we are likely in for much more drastic, powerful, and damaging changes than current climate models seem to indicate.

Though scientists have been rightly conservative and cautious when making these predictions, in an attempt to provide a solid basis for a rational response, climate change deniers and the agencies that support them have been the very definition of irresponsibility, imprudence, callousness, blindness, bull-headedness, rank stupidity, ignorance, greed, and ill-conceived risk-taking. Their arguments consistently have been proven false and yet they still speak as if they hold a monopoly on both righteous authority and truth.

Yet their failure is visited upon us with increasing pain, harm, loss of life and damage with each passing year. So one wonders why there are even still a sad few who listen to their nonsensical, mangled, and twisted claims. If they are to hold the wheel of our ship and continue to force its turn toward climate change disaster, then they should bear the blame for our misguidance and loss.

But stepping away from those who would have us continue to allow our situation to deteriorate, it is worth noting what the climate models, what the prudent, conservative, often overly-optimistic scientists predict. In short, it is nothing less than a horrendous drying out of the American heartland within the next 50-100 years. The drought models show worsening droughts occurring with greater and greater frequency. The coming decade will be worse than the last. The decade after that worse than the one before. By the end of this sad story, US agriculture would be a mere ghost of its past greatness, existing only on the fringes of a once-fertile land.

This is, likely, the ‘optimistic’ forecast. Events could happen much faster than scientists predicted. And single, catastrophic events, worthy of the term ‘natural disaster’ are certainly possible.

This summer’s drought was the worst since 1956. It happened in a land that has been made more resilient against drought by some of the best farming, resource conservation, soil use, and land management practices in the modern industrial world. We learned the terrible lessons of the dust bowl and, as a result, turned America into a fortress against future drought. Our vegetation growth and land use encourage rain and help to prevent moisture loss. But even these revolutionary practices have not prevented the current drought. Climate change has besieged America’s drought fortress and some of the gates have been breached. And far in the distance we can see the forces of climate change massing for another, more powerful, assault.

With each passing year, we add to the growing climate change horde. With each passing year, we add more to that monster force through our burning of fossil fuels. And if we do not decide to reduce that burning, it will be we who will be over-run, who will suffer the most terrible consequences. The consequences our optimistic, faithful, diligent, accurate, and cautious scientists are trying to warn us away from.

As for the climate change deniers. Their opinions are worth nothing more than a bowl full of dust.

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Climate Change’s Multiple Impacts to World Food Supply

The recent global warming-induced drought has given us a taste of possible future impacts to world food supply resulting from climate change. But a drying out of the US’s breadbasket is just one of many affects climate change will have on world food supply as it continues to intensify in coming years.

First Impact: Damage to Transportation Infrastructure

To a lesser degree, we’ve already experienced the increased fires, floods, violent storms, and droughts caused by climate change. But, over time, these impacts worsen. And as they do they present increased harm to national and international infrastructures. Damage to waterways, roads, runways, and electricity grids all present challenges and slow food distribution in an age of ‘just in time’ delivery. Violent storms constrain air and sea traffic. And fires, floods, and tornadoes may damage, destroy, or block key transportation nodes.

The affects of the recent drought on the Mississippi river is a good example of one of these impacts. Glacial floods washing out roads and bridges in Greenland this summer is another example. Taken alone, any of these impacts would be easy to deal with. But it is the pace and frequency of these events that present a primary challenge to the world’s ability to distribute food and other key resources. Over time, the tempo and scope of these events will increase, causing further difficulty.

Second Impact: The Drying Out of the World’s Breadbaskets

According to climate models, global warming will result in increasing heat and dryness in the hearts of continents and across broad sections of the world. Europe, the US, Brazil, Mexico, large swaths of Asia and Africa all experience ongoing heat and drought unlike anything experienced before. In many areas, it may no longer be practical to plant crops. And overall productivity of these regions will suffer.

Though some areas do receive additional moisture, these areas are confined to the northern reaches of the globe. The land masses of the areas drying out, however, greatly exceed the land masses of the areas gaining new moisture. So, overall, the impact will be an increasingly strenuous challenge to world food production where, in the past, agricultural output was plentiful.

Third Impact: Coastlines Begin to Destabilize

As the Arctic loses more and more of its protective coating of sea ice, Greenland will become increasingly vulnerable to periods of rapid melt. Rates of deposition of water and glaciers into the ocean will increase. Some of these pulses are likely to be very powerful and dramatic. In addition, as the world continues to warm, the oceans gain heat and thermally expand. Melt from other glaciers contributes to sea level rise as well. Finally, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet begins to feel effects similar to those impacting Greenland.

The result will be that sea levels rise at ever-increasing rates as the years and decades pass. And this rise destabilizes many of the world’s coastlines. The band of coastal shallow water, the shore itself, and the wetlands surrounding the coast are some of the world’s most productive food zones. They take decades, even centuries, of stable water level to establish. Once these coastal zones start to move, a substantial element of world food production will be damaged and/or removed.

Fourth Impact: Ocean Heating, Acidification, Oxygen Loss

The fourth impact encompasses the many threats to the world’s oceans due to global warming. First, the warming oceans pose a threat to the highly productive coral reefs. Extreme heating can cause numerous and widespread instances of coral bleaching, which can damage or kill many reef systems. Coral reefs support at least a million species including fish and crustaceans that feed hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The impact of hot seas begins near the equator and expands north and south as global warming intensifies. Near the poles, the second and third impacts begin to take hold.

Ocean acidification begins in the northern and southern regions and expands towards the equator. Acidification is caused by increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere being absorbed by the world’s oceans. The increasing levels of CO2 cause rising levels of ocean acidity. Many ocean creatures build their shells and exoskeletons from calcium carbonate. But as acidity levels rise, these creatures begin to lose the ability to build these structures. The result is that all life forms in the ocean which depend on shells made from calcium carbonate fall under an extreme stress. This includes many shellfish, corals, and crustaceans. Animals who feed on these creatures will also be impacted.

Expanding heat from the south and growing acidification from the north inflict a one-two punch on the world’s ocean systems. But the third punch is a general blow to all sea life. And it comes from oxygen depletion in the northern seas. As the ocean heats up, large areas of seabed methane begin to destabilize. These zones leech methane into the water column. As the methane rises, it chemically reacts with the water, binding oxygen to form CO2. If large areas of methane begin welling up from the water, large zones of oxygen depleted water are produced. These zones begin circulating around the globe, driven by wind and currents. These roving anoxic regions kill off any oxygen-dependent, water-breathing life so unfortunate to blunder into them.

In all, more than a billion people are fed from the bounty provided by the world’s oceans. So losses in productivity will have strong consequences for both world poverty and world hunger if policy measures do not prevent the more extreme cases of global warming. Current ocean impacts at 400 ppm CO2 are growing, but still somewhat moderate. By 600 ppm CO2, very severe impacts are prevalent. The current IEA projection based on business as usual fossil fuel consumption is 1000 ppm by end of century. It is doubtful that the oceans would survive such a blow in any form not resembling a most horrific science fiction.

All Impacts Operating In Concert

So what we will see as global warming intensifies is a combination of drying productive agricultural regions, a loss of productive coastal zones, increasing damage to the world’s ocean food supplies, and increasing levels of damage to the systems currently used to transport food around the world. These combined impacts, at their ramp up and peak, will be difficult or impossible for even the most advanced civilizations to adapt to. Under such a scenario, the difficulties imposed would almost certainly result in expanding hunger, poverty, and political destabilization over very large regions of the world.

Generally, there has been a tendency to emphasize one impact and ignore the others (just as there has been a tendency to emphasize the benefits or short comings of one solution while ignoring the others). This is an unhealthy and myopic response. All impacts must be taken together if we are to have a clear understanding of the situation and what must be done. And, though daunting, these combined impacts should serve as a call to action to do our best to prevent the ramping up of these impacts which, should we permit it, will have truly devastating consequences.

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For Much of US, Historic Drought Persists, Expected to Continue Through November

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Though rains brought some relief to Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and parts of the southeast, much of the nation’s heartland continued to wither under drought. Conditions worsened throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Missouri.

In total, about 62 percent of the United States experienced some level of drought, a slight fall from last week, but still encompassing much of the country.

Impacts to US farming, however, remain devastating. According to the Drought Monitor, as of last week, 87% of the U.S. corn crop, 85% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 72% of cattle areas were experiencing drought. This translates to very poor conditions for many crops. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 51% of the corn crop was in poor or very poor condition as was 48% of sorghum and 38% of soybeans. The percentage of corn rated in the poor to very poor category is just below the 53% value that occurred during August of 1988, a drought that some are claiming the current drought has surpassed.

Ongoing dry conditions have also severely hampered US rivers and river traffic. In areas of the plains, midwest, and west, rivers have dried up completely or heated to such a degree as to result in massive fish kills. The Platte River, for example, dried out in a 100 mile section. Many of these rivers feed the Mississippi and the drying has severely impacted water levels there. Barge traffic along the great river was forced into narrower and shallower channels. In many cases one-way lanes were necessary. In some areas, the mighty river has experienced its lowest levels ever recorded forcing barge companies to lighten their loads in order to prevent running aground. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging furiously in an attempt to keep river traffic flowing. Despite these efforts, nine barges have run aground since mid July.

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The fall forecast provides some hope for areas on the periphery of current drought zone, but shows large areas of drought persisting well into November. Much of the heartland, the mountain west, north Texas, and a large section of the central west are forecast to remain under drought conditions. Areas forecast to receive relief include parts of the northeast, the Ohio river valley, a smattering of areas in the central north, the southeast, southeast Texas, and Arizona. However, the hardest hit areas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas, are under the region where drought is expected to persist.

Overall, this forecast shows large areas of the US remaining under drought through late fall.

Year after year of dry or drought conditions over many regions of the US throughout the past decade has taken its toll. It is worth noting that US Department of Agriculture soil moisture monitors are well below their usual climatological range for many regions. This rain deficit would require a long period of above average rainfall to completely alleviate. For many regions, this level of rainfall is still not in the forecast.

That said, the end of summer should bring some respite from the combined heat and dryness. A return to El Nino conditions in the Pacific would likely increase rainfall for the east and southeast with the potential to bring powerful winter storms to the west coast as well. Current ENSO forecasts, however, aren’t clear on the expected strength of the predicted El Nino, which would impact any new rainfall.

Overall, the US is experiencing increased long-term heat and dryness due to a slowly intensifying regime of global warming. This climate change, unless slowed or altered by long-term policy measures, will continue to bring periods of increasingly severe drought over the coming years and decades. Such a pattern would have intensifying detrimental impacts to US agriculture, water security, food security, river transport, trade and poses a long-term threat to stable coastlines. The most recent drought is, likely, just one in a long parade. So any serious policy to address the plight of US farmers must also take a long, hard look at the underlying conditions of global warming which continue to harm their prospects.

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Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ 

http://www.usda.gov/oce/weather/pubs/Weekly/Wwcb/index.htm

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/enso.current.html

Half of Counties in US Declared Disaster Areas Due to Drought

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More than half of the United States has been declared a disaster area due to an ongoing record drought. Currently, 1584 counties, 50.3% of all counties in the US, are drought disaster areas.

Over much of July, record heat and dryness resulted in expanding and continuing drought conditions for much of the US. These record conditions are severely impacting the nation’s agricultural industry. According to the US drought monitor, 37% of the US soybean crop and 48% of the US corn crop were rated in poor to very poor condition. Livestock has also experienced severe impacts with 66% of the nation’s hay and 73% of the nation’s cattle acreage experiencing drought.

According to the US Drought Monitor, about 63% of the US landmass is currently undergoing drought conditions.

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For years, climate scientists have warned that human-caused global warming would result in intensified drought conditions for the US. With drought conditions occurring across wide swaths of the US for the past 7 years, it appears that this future is now. The current drought is one of the worst on record and threatens to intensify. It follows on the heels of a massive and debilitating drought in Texas last year. It is the second major drought to impact the southeast in five years. Unfortunately, weather forecasts show this drought is likely to continue through Halloween. If such an event materializes, the current severe impacts will grow far, far worse.

Though it is normal for extreme droughts to occur over long time-scales, it is not normal that they occur with such frequency and such recurring severity. Most climate scientists now agree the current drought was made worse by climate change. A more clear statement is that the current drought is a product of human-caused climate change. What would have likely been a hot, dry period, has become an extreme event due the effects of added atmospheric heating.

Stating this obvious fact should be something we encourage. It is impossible to deal with a problem unless it is first validated. But, considering our situation, it is only responsible to make a concerted call, not for panic, but for action.

Strong changes to energy policy, major support for alternative fuels for transportation and electricity (wind, solar, biofuels, plug in hybrid electric vehicles and pure electric vehicles), a dedicated program of cut-backs for fossil fuel use (coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands), and national funding for climate emergency mitigation will be necessary to deal with this crisis. The goal will be to prevent future, worse disasters while working to mitigate the disasters that are currently under way.

Given the current state of the world’s climate, without prevention and mitigation, we are likely to experience continued and worsening instances similar to this drought in the future. Regional and national droughts will continue to intensify, with more extreme events becoming more frequent and more intense. Even with prevention and mitigation, we can expect a period of difficulty, but with proper policy measures, these difficulties should be manageable.

It is worth noting the amazing degree of short-sightedness business and political leaders pushing for expanded fossil fuel use express. This complete lack of responsibility and leadership in pursuit of short-term profit and political gain, if continued, will result in nothing short of the United States losing its position as an agricultural superpower. It will also have severe and devastating impacts on both national and world-wide food security.

So let this be an appeal to these  leaders — the oil barons, the coal barons, the gas barons, and the politicians who support them — the time for change is well past. You may continue your attempts at dominance and short-sighted profit, but you do so by waging a campaign of devastation and degradation on the rest of us. This is unconscionable. It must stop now.

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