NASA scientists have confirmed that the Dust Bowl Drought of 1934 was the worst ever in the history of North America in the last 1000 years, said climate scientist Ben Cook from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

NASA partnered with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in order to study the severity of climate extremes in North America. The study, which used modern weather records alongside a drought record based on tree rings ranging from 1000 AD to 2005, was able to determine that the 1934 drought was the worst in the history of the continent. The runner up to the Dust Bowl drought occurred in 1580, the research results say.

The drought of 1934, which covered more than 71 percent of western North America, was caused by an immobile high pressure system that floated above the North American west coast for an entire winter, pushing wet weather away from the interior of the continent. Similar conditions led to droughts in both 2013 and in 2014 as well, the research study said, though the dust storms that gave the region its name in the 1930s also worked to discourage rainfall.


Also known as the Dust Bowl Days and the Dirty Thirties, the 1934 drought was 30 percent more disastrous compared to the 1580 drought that covered 71.6 percent of western North America. This year’s U.S. drought covers only 59.7 percent of the western states.

There were apparently two major events that occurred to concoct the 1934 drought. The first one involved a high pressure system that loomed over the U.S. west coast that averted rains.

The second was poor land and agriculture management that hindered the evaporation that would have helped form rainclouds.

This combination made for a deadly mix and caused the entire U.S. to suffer during this period, said study co-author Richard Seager.

Climate change will continue to strengthen the possibilities of strong droughts in North America, according to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We found that a lot of the drying that occurred in the spring time occurred downwind from where the dust storms originated, suggesting that it’s actually the dust in the atmosphere that’s driving at least some of the drying in the spring and really allowing this drought event to spread upwards into the central plains,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist, according to the release.

According to the recent Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change will most likely cause severe droughts in North America so scientists are searching for clues from past events.

Scientists are also especially concerned that fossil fuels continue to burn at an unprecedented rate along with fracking. These will fan the flames of climate change and can lead to megadroughts lasting up to 30 years.

This new study was published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters.


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