In 1934, severe drought afflicted three-quarters of the country. Massive dust clouds swept across the landscape, darkening the sky, and farmers watched — helpless — as winds blew away their bone-dry soil.

PhotoThe Dust Bowl is a distant memory, but the odds of such a drought happening again are increasing. Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute explains that climate change is likely to lead to less rainfall regionally and higher temperatures nationwide.

Cook: “Once you increase the temperatures, you increase evaporation of moisture from the soils. And this has an additional effect of further drying up the soils.”

The impacts on agriculture could be dire, but fortunately, the next major drought will not cause a second dust bowl, as we are now better able to prevent soil erosion.

Cook: “We have really widespread irrigation use, which allows many farmers to buffer the effects of drought more than they would’ve been able to do in the 1930s.”

Other helpful techniques include planting more drought-resistant strains of corn and wheat; leaving crop residue on the fields to cover the soil; and planting trees to break the wind.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Dust bowl photo from the 1930s (source: Wikipedia).

More Resources
U.S.’s 1930s Dust Bowl Worst in a Millennium
1934 Drought Was Worst of the Last Millennium, Study Finds
Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture
Amount of dust blown across the West is increasing, says CU-Boulder study

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...