Dust Bowl

1930s Dust Bowl Drought – and Current California Drought – Caused By Warm Ocean Anomalies

A scientific paper published last month in the journal Climate Dynamics by a scientist from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and three universities found that the 1930s drought was exacerbated by an anomalous warm spots in the ocean:

Unusually hot summer conditions occurred during the 1930s over the central United States and undoubtedly contributed to the severity of the Dust Bowl drought. We investigate local and large-scale conditions in association with the extraordinary heat and drought events, making use of novel datasets of observed climate extremes and climate reanalysis covering the past century. We show that the unprecedented summer heat during the Dust Bowl years was likely exacerbated by land-surface feedbacks associated with springtime precipitation deficits. The reanalysis results indicate that these deficits were associated with the coincidence of anomalously warm North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific surface waters and a shift in atmospheric pressure patterns leading to reduced flow of moist air into the central US. Thus, the combination of springtime ocean temperatures and atmospheric flow anomalies, leading to reduced precipitation, also holds potential for enhanced predictability of summer heat events. The results suggest that hot drought, more severe than experienced during the most recent 2011 and 2012 heat waves, is to be expected when ocean temperature anomalies like those observed in the 1930s occur in a world that has seen significant mean warming.

Similarly, a warm “blob” of ocean water is currently floating off the West coast of the U.S. And – as reported by the Washington PostNBC News, and CBS – scientists say that the warm anomaly may be causing the California drought.

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