Historical perspective on the dust bowl drought in the central United States


Three new 159-year long reconstructions of spring, summer, and growing season precipitation totals were developed for northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri from five station clusters (Lawrence, Leavenworth, and Manhattan, Kansas; Miami and Oregon, Missouri). Nonstandard observation practices are inherent in the early meteorological data, which can induce an undercount in precipitation measurements, particularly during the cool season. Threshold analyses of these five station clusters indicated undercount can be lessened for daily precipitation totals of 0.50 in. and greater during the warm season ("half-inch threshold"). Therefore, "adjusted reconstructions" of total precipitation for the spring (AMJ), summer (JA), and growing season (AMJJA) were derived using the "half-inch threshold" totals and an estimate of the missing amount between 0.00 and 0.50 in. based on an average of the modern observations at each station (or the nearest available station). The new precipitation reconstructions suggest that the most severe spring drought may have occurred during the mid-19th century, although the potential for undercount is likely highest during the spring season. The most severe summer precipitation deficit is estimated during the 1930s Dust Bowl drought, followed by the summer drought of the 1910s. When precipitation is totaled for the entire growing season, the mid-19th century and Dust Bowl droughts were of approximately equal magnitude and duration in this reconstruction. However, the integration of precipitation and temperature into seasonal measures of effective moisture, using a new 19th century temperature reconstruction for northeastern Kansas, indicates that the 1930s growing season moisture deficit was the most severe and sustained since 1855, highlighting the extraordinarily high temperatures recorded during the 1930s Dust Bowl drought. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Publication Title

Climatic Change