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Harris-Mann Climatology Article Archive

Title: Major Droughts Have Recurred Like Clockwork in the Nation's Heartland

Author: Climatologist Cliff Harris
Published: 2/1/2013

Major solar-induced drought patterns, often lasting nearly a full decade, have recurred across the midsection of the U.S. approximately every 80 years since at least the early 1600s.

We are still in the latest version of this particular long-term drought cycle. We’ve seen some moisture relief in parts of Texas and the eastern Corn Belt in recent weeks, but the western Midwest and much of the Great Plains remain, of this February 1, 2013 writing, in the firm grip of choking drought with no significant precipitation yet in sight west of the Mississippi River.

The latest Palmer Drought Index, released by the National Weather Service on January 26, showed that much of eastern Montana, all of Wyoming, most of Nebraska and large parts of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico were still under "extreme drought conditions."

Randy Mann and I do not see a major break in the prolonged drought in the nation’s heartland for at least another 60 days, maybe longer. It will take months of above normal moisture in order for these parched regions to even begin to recover from years of extreme dryness.

The last 80-year drought occurred in the Dust Bowl Era of the so-called ‘Dirty 1930s.’ This was one of the worst environmental disasters of the entire 20th Century anywhere in the world.

More than three million people were forced to abandon their farms when their wells and fields went dry in the Great Plains and the western Midwest. Nearly a million farmers went west to California and other Pacific coastal states to seek jobs of any kind, especially in the agriculturally rich valleys of California.

But, the main reason for the drought disaster in the central U.S. was poor land use and inept general farming techniques that saw these regions plowed up for decades before the 1930s as the planting of wheat expanded westward to the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

The natural grasses of the Great Plains could survive, in most cases, these horrible, long-lasting droughts. But, during the 1930s, and again in recent years, the wheat fields shriveled exposing the bare earth and dust to the high winds. The resulting erosion and dust storms clogged the lungs of thousands of Plains residents. As many as 5,000 people died in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas alone between 1930 and 1937.

I should likewise mention that a preview of the 1930s Dust Bowl occurred during the 1856-65 major 80-year drought that peaked during the Civil War. The war ended and so did the drought in 1865.