Snow for the Northeast, Dust for the Great Plains

3:10 pm in Energy, Environment, Religion by Peterr

While the Northeast is being buried under a blizzard, the Great Plains has its own storms to deal with. Dust storms, that is.

The image to the right was taken on January 11, 2013, and shows a huge cloud of dust blowing across eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The latest Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin from the USDA (Feb 5, 2013) captions this image like this:

Despite sporadic January precipitation on the Plains, drought remained entrenched across the nation’s mid-section. By month’s end, at least half of the winter wheat was rated very poor to poor in Oklahoma (69%), South Dakota (66%), and Nebraska (50%). In Kansas, 39% of the winter wheat and 85% of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor by January 27. In addition, 19% of the Kansas wheat crop was reported by USDA/NASS to have been harmed by wind, with a damage breakdown of 13% light, 5% moderate, and 1% severe. Some of January’s highest winds occurred on the 11th, when dust rolled across portions of eastern Colorado and western Kansas. On that date, wind gusts were clocked to 62 mph in Pueblo, CO, and 60 mph in Garden City, KS.

This time of year, that area is supposed to be snow-covered, not dust-covered. It’s supposed to be damp, not dry. For that to happen, however, requires precipitation — and that hasn’t been coming. The latest map from the US Drought Monitor looks much like their drought maps over the last several months, with extreme and exceptional drought covering much of the Great Plains, and other parts of the US suffering as well. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s latest forecast calls for the drought across the midsection of the US to persist or worsen in the next three months, with above average temperatures and below average precipitation across the southern plains and southwest.

No snow means winter wheat is uncovered and thus exposed to killing temperatures. No snow means no moisture to nourish the prairie grasses for grazing animals. No snow means not only bad winter crops, but any spring planting is likely to be done in poor soil conditions. No snow means dust storms.

Enjoy your snow, Northeasterners. God knows we wish we had some out here in the Plains. And if things don’t change, you Northeasterners are going to wish we had snow out here too, because food prices will climb when wheat and corn yields fall.

We’re in this together, people.

Is this climate change? I’ll leave that to the climatologists — but it does look exactly like what would be happening if the climate is changing.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl storms were exacerbated by plowing techniques that damaged the soil. Farmers learned a lot — the hard way — and farming practices changed for the better. Farmers changed the way they worked the land, to encourage it to hold moisture better. Today, as that image at the top shows, those changes are not enough.

We’re in this together, people.

As I talk with pastors and others around the country, I see more and more efforts to try to change our energy habits. Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kansas was faced with replacing an aging heating and air conditioning system, and decided to install a geothermal system. It required more up-front money, but is saving both monthly expenses and reducing the use of energy from non-renewable, pollution-causing sources. St. John’s University, a Roman Catholic school in Collegeville, MN, has installed a large-scale solar array as the first step toward becoming a carbon-neutral institution. Down the road in Northfield MN, St. Olaf College, put up a 1.65 megawatt wind turbine, matching the one put up across town at Carleton College two years earlier.

Small steps, but they’re steps in the right direction.

We just need more of us taking these steps, and all of us looking ahead to the next steps after that.

Because we’re in this together, people.


h/t to the USDA and US Drought Monitor for the public domain images above