Thursday, August 03, 2017

"Flash Drought" Threatens Half the High Plains Wheat Harvest


Abnormally dry conditions now cover 100 percent of South Dakota according to U.S. Drought Monitor

by Gaius Publius

The climate crisis has already started. Early signs include the refugee crisis in Europe, begun in large part by a deadly drought in Syria. The dots leading from the drought to Europe's current troubles are not difficult to connect.

First, from Joe Romm writing at ThinkProgress:
The Link Between Climate Change And ISIS Is Real

... For three years now, leading security and climate experts — and Syrians themselves — have made the connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war. Indeed, when a major peer-reviewed study [pdf]came out on in March making this very case, retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley said it identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought.

Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “You can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
About that "very credible connection," this is from the underlying study (emphasis mine):
Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend...
Which leads to the Syrian civil war, which leads to the flood of immigrants, primarily Syrian but including others as well, into Europe, whose nations as a result are going through a destabilization-and-response crisis that appears not to have an end.

Mass migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East (click to enlarge; source)

All of this is connected and forms one branch of the already-started climate crisis. As I wrote here earlier:
[C]limate chaos won't involve just drought, famine and a destroyed environment — all physical stresses and dangers to human life. Climate chaos will start with some of those physical stresses, but be coupled with human anticipation, which will result in social and political chaos first, and if we're really unfortunate, eventually with collapse.

The two sets of problems — physical stress on the one hand, social and political stress on the other — are intertwined, but because humans are an anticipating species, I think the social chaos will ramp up first, ramp to a greater degree in the initial stages, ultimately producing political collapse prior to full-on physical collapse of our support systems, like food production.
In the case of Europe, the political crisis has indeed started ahead of the full-on physical threat to physical support systems.

"Flash Drought" in Montana and the Dakotas

Another branch of this already-started crisis involves extreme heat in the U.S., which creates not only larger and earlier wildfires than the nation is used to dealing with, but threats to food supply as well.

Consider this recent event in America's High Plains as reported at Grist:
‘Flash drought’ could devastate half the High Plains wheat harvest

It’s peak hurricane season, but the nation’s worst weather disaster right now is raging on the High Plains.

An intense drought has quickly gripped much of the Dakotas and parts of Montana this summer, catching farmers and ranchers off-guard. The multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional,” its highest severity level, matching the intensity of the California drought at its peak.

The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt, with some longtime farmers and ranchers calling it the worst of their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this kind of came-out-of-nowhere drought could become a lot less rare in the future.

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable,” Montana resident Sarah Swanson told Grist. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Rainfall across the affected region has been less than half of normal since late April, when this year’s growing season began. In parts of Montana’s Missouri River basin, which is the drought’s epicenter, rainfall has been less than a quarter of normal — which equals the driest growing season in recorded history for some communities.
The piece contains much more, but let's stop to notice several points made above that might not have stood out.

First, the drought caught farmers and ranchers "off-guard." This means it caught the weather services, on which farmers and ranchers always rely, off-guard as well. It is indeed a "flash drought." I think we can expect an increasing number of these, with government and private weather prediction services racing to catch up.

Second, many communities are experiencing their "driest growing season in recorded history." This regional event is exactly what's happening globally — that the three most recent years were also the three warmest years on Earth since the start of the instrument record:
Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.
Finally, the Grist story above said that dry conditions are laying waste to crops in "America’s new wheat belt." That's a back-handed way of saying that U.S. wheat production is moving north, away from places like Kansas and Nebraska and into the Dakotas and Montana. Grist again:
Recently, as the climate has warmed and crop suitability has shifted, the Dakotas and Montana have surpassed Kansas as the most important wheat-growing region in the country. The High Plains is now a supplier of staple grain for the entire world.
Which means the drought is dangerous for another reason as well. As Grist notes, "According to recent field surveys, more than half of this year’s harvest may already be lost."

The climate crisis has started; these are obvious early-stage events. Stay tuned for more of them. Is it an emergency yet?


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At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The climate crisis started long ago. But the effects will continue to magnify as the CO2 levels get further over 350ppm and finally commoners are noticing.

The CA drought? The flash floods in AZ? The 100+ wildfires now burning in BC? The record trip digit temps in WA, OR? The more frequent super storms?
All are aberrations that shouldn't occur more than once in a century. But all are occurring with regularity.

The disappearing ice in Greenland, AK and Antarctica? The disappearing coral reefs (due to acidification, not so much due to temps)?

But it's all a Chinese hoax... right???


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