The front page of yesterday’s Sunday Denver Post showed a rural photo reminiscent of the 1930’s Dust Bowl days with a cover story titled “Drought Turns Plains to Dust.”
This was timed to follow the two posts I made last week about soil erosion concerns during a period of more weather extremes of floods and droughts induced by climate change. While parts of Iowa have received more than 17 inches of rain this spring following a drought last summer, currently the Southeast corner of Colorado, parts of Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas are in D4, the worst stage of drought measured by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The three month drought forecast map offers no reason for hope, either.
The Denver Post article (linked above) contains farm family stories that also sound like they are straight out of the 1930’s. With phrases like “had to cover their faces with handkerchiefs” and “opened the front door and saw 3-foot drifts of dirt everywhere” and “I couldn’t see five feet in front of me”, one wonders how wide this region of blowing dust will become over the remainder of this year.
I recently traveled South from here in Boulder to central New Mexico, and the fields most of the distance as far as my eyes could see were brown and barren. These conditions span thousands of square miles. A completely brown landscape along this route is not normal for late May. These large areas might also start to blow dirt if given strong winds like the 60-MPH ones that caused the dust bowl conditions here in Colorado recently.
Colorado’s winter wheat crop is a disaster south of I-70 because of the combination of drought conditions and a series of late spring freezes. As the sixth-largest wheat producing state, as of now, 20 percent of the state’s crop is a total loss, and that is expected to possibly move higher, to 30 percent over the coming month. Sixty percent of the state’s wheat farmers are reporting “poor to very poor” wheat crop conditions.
A dust storm approaches at a rate of 60 miles per hour in Southeastern Colorado in the 1930s.
Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration.