Dust Bowl II? (Linda Marsa connects the dots)

Writing a good book about global warming is a little bit like trying to catch a whale in a butterfly net. Not only is the beast vast almost beyond human comprehension, but will it stay still? No it won't. Captain Ahab himself at least had a harpoon — a writer has nothing but a few facts in his or her arsenal. 

With that said, let me now pay my respects again to veteran science reporter Linda Marsa and her tightly focused Fevered (with its less-tightly-focused subhead: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — And How We Can Save Ourselves). In her introduction, Marsa brings up a singular fact about the infamous Dust Bowl that I have never encountered before, despite years of reading about climate:

One degree. When I talked to meteorologist Siegfried Schubert, I was astonished to find that's all it took to cause the 1930's Dust Bowl. Just a 1 degree F change in the surface temperatures cut off the pipeline of moisture that normally travels north from the Gulf of Mexico and triggered the long dry spell, according to a study he did more than 60 years later, in 2004, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center….Granted [she qualifies] agricultural techniques, such as deep plowing that removed the top layer of fertile dirt and garsses that achored the soil, and a failure to rotate crops, which depleted vital nutrients, made the fields more vulnerable to wind erosion and created the conditions for the dust storms.)…[but] "The 1930's drought was a major climactic event on such a great, grand scale," Schubert told me […], "It's something that has to be explained, especially if we are to make progress in understanding future droughts in relation to global warming."

Here's a brief explanation of what happened from Schubert. For a primer on his research, try here:

The model showed cooler than normal tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and warmer than normal tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to a weakened low-level jet stream and changed its course. The jet stream, a ribbon of fast moving air near the Earth's surface, normally flows westward over the Gulf of Mexico and then turns northward pulling up moisture and dumping rain onto the Great Plains. As the low level jet stream weakened, it traveled farther south than normal. The Great Plains dried up and dust storms formed.

The research shed light on how tropical sea surface temperatures can have a remote response and control over weather and climate. It also confirmed droughts can become localized based on soil moisture levels, especially during summer. When rain is scarce and soil dries, there is less evaporation, which leads to even less precipitation, creating a feedback process that reinforces lack of rainfall.

Given that estimates that temperatures will rise 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8F) by the 2030's, according to consensus IPCC projections from the last report, this means that Dust Bowl II is a real possibility.  WarmingbyIPCC

In fact, observers on the ground express fears about this possibility, for simpler reasons, according to an All Things Considered story aired this Thursday. 

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ravaged crops and helped plunge the U.S. into an environmental and economic depression. Farmland in parts of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas disappeared.

After the howling winds passed and the dust settled, federal foresters planted 100 million trees across the Great Plains, forming a giant windbreak — known as a shelterbelt — that stretched from Texas to Canada.

Now, those trees are dying from drought, leaving some to worry whether another Dust Bowl might swirl up again.

The report by Joe Wertz doesn't get too detailed, but will (one hopes) help spur more more research, by journalists and scientists alike, into this alarming possibility…or likelihood.

Here's a pic of what the Dust Bowl looked like to Stratford, Texas, back in the day. 


The most famous artist to come out of the Dust Bowl was Woody Guthrie, and it's good to hear he's getting long-overdue attention, both from his home town of Okemah, which used to hate him, and with the publication of a long-lost novel about the Dust Bowl, House of Earth

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

2 thoughts on “Dust Bowl II? (Linda Marsa connects the dots)

  1. Good job Dust Bowl! Please continue your goal to help our nature put back to its natural state. I hope that this will be the bridge to anybody to initiate some actions to restore our nature to its natural condition to minimize the calamities that is continuously beating us anywhere in the world. My hopes and prayer for your goal to be a success. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: