Droughts are always bad. By definition, they are simply terrible by being what they are, and that’s something that has always been a constant. Over recent years we have seen some extreme droughts, but none that have been quite as bad, as the droughts during the Dust Bowl Droughts in the 1930’s.
A study that was published on the October 17th showed that the drought of 1934 was 30% more severe than the drought which was named second-worst. That drought came significantly beforehand, in 1580, and was thought to have been the worst, up until this point. The drought in 2012 was thought to be extreme, but in comparison, it was actually significantly less extreme than originally thought.
The drought of 1934 extended across 71.6% of western North America, while the 2012 drought extended across 59.7%. Obviously, still a terrible weather event – but not the “once in a millennium” bad that scientists had at one time thought.
The unique part about the drought of 1934 was the fact that it was so widespread. Droughts are typically events that vary by region. One community could be hit very hard by a drought, where another community could be almost entirely spared. It’s an individual thing, which is hard to compare on a very large scale. However, there were two pretty significant factors that made the drought of 1934 the worst ever by quite a margin.
Those two issues were land management issues, which revolved around the choices individuals were making in how they produced what they produced, and of course a massive blocking high pressure system that was anchored along the West Coast. They pushed the storms around the high pressure system, and right away from the affected areas.
Ben Cook, a climate scientist for NASA pointed out that “It was the worst by a large margin, falling pretty far outside the normal range of variability that we see in the record.” The co-author of the study even pointed out that “The fact that it was the worst of the millennium was probably in part because of the human role.” While it was an awful event, it shows just how much impact we as people have on it.
The land management practices that were common then, in comparison with the fact that the weather pattern set up perfectly, created the perfect dusty storm.