Texas Drought - It Ain't Going to Rain (or not much)

Brazos River runs dry - Summer 2011

 

If any of these links do not work, contact me at tiggernut24@yahoo.com  .    I have many of the articles in pdf format, especially such articles as those from the New York Times that could be hard to access.

 

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INTRODUCTION   

I created this page because I became aware of a shocking degree of denial of the severity of the drought that Texas is in.   First an environmentalist posted an editorial by the Houston Chronicle, dated September 16, 2011, that argued that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is wrong to allow the communities upstream on the rivers that feed the Galveston Bay, to save water.   The water should be used to prevent desalinization of Galveston Bay, thus saving mussels that live there.    Kate Galbraith's New York Times article below, about the competition for the Colorado River's limited water supply during the Texas drought, tells us that this environmentalist isn't alone; a substantial body of environmentalists want to send water from upstream reservoirs to save mussels from desalinization in Texas' coastal river estuaries, more than one of which is experiencing salinization and death of mussels.    

Next, the same environmentalist posted an AP article, of all things, dated September 21, that argues that the Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the city of Austin's water supply and water to farmers and power plants on the lower Colorado River, is trying to cut the supply of water used to flood the fields of rice farmers along the lower Colorado River.   The article argues that failure to save rice farming as we know it on the lower Colorado river will result in substantial financial loss.   The primary point of the article appears to be that a cherished and somewhat sacred way of life is in peril.  If  Austin doesn't send all of its water to the rice farmers.   Logically implicit is the notion that if Austin sends all its water to the rice farmers, this will save rice farming as it is now practiced.   That the AP would take a position on an issue it covers is particularly scary; they characteristically don't do that unless they perceive that the view they argue for is one of the Ten Commandments.   Mike Mecke explained his support of this, and stated that all Austin needs the water for is to water the grass.   The environmentalist woods seem to be full of assorted versions of the notion that Texas's drought would evaporate if people in the city of Austin just stopped watering their lawns, and the statement that all anyone needs water for in this city is to water their lawn with is not unusual.   Indeed, if the LCRA or TCEQ voted to send Austin's water to rice farmers or the river estuary, they would implicity endorse that idea, - or else the notion that it's going to rain.   

To be fair, the environmentalist, Mike Mecke, posts all sorts of articles to the Texas riparian listserv, and they are typically invaluable.   I thought he was personally endorsing the arguments in the Houston Chronicle editorial and the AP article.  Turns out, he is, whether that was the point of posting them.   He wrote me that he is very committed to saving the riparian ecosystem as it has existed until now.   He didn't invent these articles; he only meant to educate us, and these articles are certainly an education.  If I did not see it, I could not have believed it.

Before I explain what is wrong with this, it gets better.   We know that a substantial proportion of the upper and upper middle classes have to keep their lush green lawns soaked.   What goes on in their heads, and how far will they take it? 

On September 27, 2011, Austin TV station KEYE carried this story.  Dave Quillman, Director of the Fern Bluff MUD in the city of Round Rock, Texas, sent letters to a number of residents of the MUD, ordering them to re-sod their dead lawns or face legal action.   In the accompanying interview, he explained, "It's going to rain".   Confronted by a TV news crew bearing massive reports of upset residents, many of whom tried to save their lawns and couldn't because the heat and drought are too severe, he said that residents only have to have a plan to re-sod their lawns, which apparently had better be carried out before later in the fall when he said he will have crews driving through the district photographing lawns that are in violation of MUD policy.   He also explained that he specifically sent the letters because the dead lawns pose a fire hazard.  

The problem with all of this is that these people are very out of touch with reality.   That environmentalists and the editorial staff of the Houston Chronicle could take the positions they did is quite shocking. 

Still scarier, at a hearing of the Texas Water Development Board in Austin, Texas, September 17, 2011, an agency representative explained that the draft plan plans on Texas' water supply decreasing by 10% over the next 50 years, mostly from decreases in water taken from two specific aquifers.  This is summarized on page 3.  On page 157 of the draft 2012 Water for Texas plan, it says, "The states' existing water supplies - mainly from surface water, groundwater, and reuse water - are projected to decrease about 10 percent over the planning horizon, from about 17.0 million acre-feet in 2010 to about 15.3 million acre-feet.  On page 47 specific statistics support that statement.  They must be living on another planet.  Their analysis of Texas climate completely misses the severity of the current drought.   I observe that remarkably, localities forecasted no decrease in their aquifers, with a half dozen exceptions that in some cases include part of the Edwards aquifer.   

Page 160 gives clues which planet these people are living on.  Page 160 explains that "Surface water availablilty is derived from water availability models, computer-based simulations, developed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that predict the amount of water that would be available for diversion under a specified set of conditions.  The models represent the maximum amount of water available each year during the drought of record regardless of legal or physical availability."    "The models represent ... " "specified set of conditions" "The maximum...."  "during the drought of record"?  These people need to get their noses out of their books and their computers and look out the window - well, no, not at the grass on the capitol grounds and complex, where the TWDB offices are located, which is pretty much kept lushly green.  These people live on another planet, far insulated from reality.  Those people in their five piece silk and wool suits, get in cars, one person to one car, go home at night, to houses cooled to 65 degrees (why their building is kept at 65 degrees), and lush green lawns of St. Augustine grass that they have copiously watered all summer long, and if they could they used outmoded neighborhood association rules to force their neighbors to do the same!  The drought conditions they are feeding their computer are very different from the situation that Texas currently faces.  

Texas Capitol Complex, Austin

My own back yard (Summer 2011)

The discussion on Texas' climate is restricted to a bland and almost irrelevant discussion about El Nino and La Nina.   There is no mention of critical recent long term shifts in ocean conditions, still less of the warming Arctic, the warming north Atlantic, the warming Gulf of Mexico, or the expansion of the world's subtropical high pressure ridge zones.   In Texas, state officials tend to get the subject of climate hopelessly confused with the issue of whether human activity is causing the planet to warm.  Therefore the world is not warming, Texas' climate is not changing, and the drought is nothing to worry about, if that even exists.   

The Statesman article, Texas, already short of water, grapples with long term fix, (10/19/2011) seems to read the report the way I do.  It is funny how reporters appear to be seeing the part of the statement that refers to not enough water, but missing the part where it says only by 10%.  Environmental reporter Kate Galbraith, who I generally respect, reads it that way as well.   But this 10% statement that says water availability is only going to fall in two relatively obscure aquifers is dangerous.

Other Texas state agencies are acting as scary.  Though originally Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon was making predictions for Texas rainfall in the considerable future consistent with those made by others below, recently he has begun to tow Governor Perry's party line on the subject of climate change.   Nielsen-Gammon uses probability theory to deny the problem, and he also sets up a false dichotomy, that either we'll have plenty of rain, or we'll have zero rain. "Texas localities that are running low on water and have less than enough to last until next autumn, when it may rain, are not likely to run out of water in the foreseeable future... .The deadline is a worst case scenario, because the odds of zero rainfall are near zero. The specific dates are pretty good for attention-grabbing, but they’re not realistic projections of when they’ll actually run out of water. ...  If you’re talking three or four months down the road, we’ll get more rain, and each rain event will push the run-out-of-water date further down the road."   

In pure mathematical probability theory, the likelihood of any discrete event happening is extremely small.   In the real world the likelihood of something happening is often quite large.   In reality we'll probably have some but very little rain.   The autumn rainy season is a week from ending with less than a half inch of rain predicted this week.  Austin has had three or four inches of rain since May.   We rarely get significant rainfall in the winter, and it's a la nina winter.   The odds of little rainfall before next summer are quite high.   We rarely get much rain in the summer.   The state climatologist is acting as if he got word from above to stop being so alarmist, and is now towing the line and denying the drought.   This is consistent with ridiculous extremes the Texas state government has recently gone to to deny climate change.

Also, while if we got absolutely normal rainfall for the next year, nobody would run out of water, we would still have a catastrophic problem.

It isn't going to rain.   It didn't rain last year; it didn't rain for three of the past four years, and the long term forecast is that with the return of La Nina, it isn't going to rain substantially before fall of 2012.   What is more, the region is entering at best a period of long term severe drought, and is probably converting to desert over the long run.  The region is very susceptible to periodic severe drought.   Between 900 and 1300 AD, the entire western Great Plains became desert, with Nebraska covered by great sand dunes.   No matter what has caused global warming, the tropics and the subtropical zones with their deserts have expanded northwards.  Before the shift, the city of Austin was on the borderline at 30 degrees of north latitude.  

When the land is converting to desert, nothing can stop salinization of the coastal bays or make it possible to continue to grow rice, atleast not by flooding the fields.   Not all of the information was presented on either issue.   See section on rice growing at the bottom of the page.   Rice may also not be the most desirable thing for the farmers to grow.   This article about state politics and censorship of a state report on the state of Galveston Bay, demonstrates among other things, what things those are not being all that clear, that the editorial above doesn't  give the whole story on what is behind desalinzation of Texas' coastal bays; rising sea levels are contributing more to the salinification than lower river levels are.   

What is causing rising sea levels at this time is controversial, and probably it is mostly manmade.   Nevertheless sea levels have historically risen and fallen, and will do so again.   Rising sea levels forced my father's A-S generic haplogroup I1 ancestors to leave Frisia in the 5th century, or maybe the 8th century, as sea levels rose more than once during that period.  Before late medieval advances in technology protected that coast, rising sea levels made it impossible to live near the coast of Frisia and the Netherlands on a cyclical basis every few hundred years.   When the sea levels dropped, new people moved in from the northeast, resulting in three to five successive waves of Anglo-Saxon migration down the coast.   This does not count the "Celtic" migration from the lowlands to England in 600 BC, which was also caused by a rise in sea level.  While of course we should strive to prevent manmade climate change by halting excessive emissions, and possibly by not excavating river estuaries into deep sea harbors as was evidently done in Galvestion Bay, it is apparent that global sea levels rise and fall regularly.  We need to plan on and adapt to climate change rather than attempt extreme ways to preserve the flora and fauna of the previous climactic phase in a new and very different environment.    

I must give Mike Mecke that he actually saw sooner than anyone else that the cities need to get over the lush green lawns, possibly partly because he comes across as one of those environmentalists that have always thought it is intrinsically sinful to enjoy green, and snap off a dour "You should.." at every other thing that comes out of their mouths..   The fact that it is environmental extremists who don't recognize the crisis that climate change is posing for our area is frightening.   He and other environmentalists are gravely mistaken that giving up lush green lawns will save enough water for people to have enough, for rice farmers to have enough to continue flooding their fields, and for the river estuaries to return to their former levels of fresh water.   As scary, Mike Mecke has said on the listserv that watering lawns constitutes the city of Austin's main need for water.   I wish I thought that most environmentalists didn't see the matter that way.   

Environmentalists need to face the fact that the environment is changing and the mussels of the coastal estuaries cannot be saved.   Many scientists recognize that river ecosystems as we know them are pretty much done for and are looking to other means to save the affected species.   The local climate is changing, and nothing people can do will stop the coastal bays from salinization.    The only question is whether the cities will be allowed to save their water, or all of it will be sent downstream in a vain attempt to prevent salinization.    

I wonder if environmentalists who have worked long and hard to save the estuary ecosystem from pollution, and probably fell in love with them, are being slow to realize that something else has entered the picture.  They could be confusing the issues of environmental damage and climate change.   However they are not arguing for reducing pollution, but for sending  Austin's limited water to the river estuary to save the oysters for a few months longer than they otherwise would have lived.  .

Environmentalists may also have set a trap for themselves by thinking of climate change as a manmade problem that can be quickly and easily reversed.  By the same token, people who deny that climate change is taking place in Texas are likely to be confusing the entire issue with the question of whether climate change is man made.   

This is very important.   I think that the climate change that is currently taking place is largely manmade.   However,   many of the specific changes in the climate of the northern hemisphere that are causing Texas' drought not only have happened before, but have happened several times that we know of since AD 1000.     Three times since AD 1000 Texas and the high plains have entirely converted to desert and stayed that way for hundreds of years, or came close to converting to desert and stayed that way for over a decade.   All three times much of the landscape was sand dunes.   Every one of these conditions, plus spreading subtropical desert zones, is now in place.   We ain't going to grow rice by flooding the fields.   Mussels in the coastal bays that need a fresh water environment aint' going to survive, not if we send them every drop of water in the state.   We ain't going to have lush green lawns of St. Augustine grass, either.   As a matter of fact we'll all survive only if we make the kinds of changes that the cities of the southwestern deserts have made.   Who or what is responsible for this is less important than planning intelligently for it, and adapting to our changing environment.   

One other thing; the melting of the Arctic ice has probably set in motion a series of events, atleast in the northern hemisphere, that quite likely cannot be quickly or easily reversed, not that that makes continuing to pollute the environment a helpful thing to do.  The young ice cannot adequately reflect the sun's heat back into space.  The weakening arctic jet stream is helping the arctic warm up even as cold air flows south.   The warm air over Greenland is part of why Texas can't get rain.   Cold air blasting into the Pacific has triggered the long term pacific oscillation in a manner that reinforces and perpetuates La Nina.   We could see La Nina most years for the next ten years, or the next two hundred years.   The arctic looks likely to continue melting if air pollution stopped tomorrow.   The melting ice has already triggered cyclical long term reversals of the jet streams across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and North America.    Earth's climate is dynamically unstable and easily upset, which is exactly how humans managed to unbalance it.   

For anyone who is interested, two other things aren't part of the historical pattern that set up the Medieval Warming Period (in the north Atlantic) and the medieval megadrought in Texas.   One, the planet is warming up, and the Gulf is warming up along with it.   That also helps keep it from raining in Texas.   Second, because the entire planet is warming, the tropics have expanded poleward, pushing the semitropical zones poleward ahead of them, by about a hundred miles.   This has caused the semitropical high pressure ridges to strengthen and expand.   The semitropical high pressure ridges are directly responsible for most of the world's deserts.   The subtropical high pressure ridges consist of a band of descending air from the tropics that has cooled (relative to the tropics), and lost its humidity.   They do strengthen and spread further during the summer.  They don't vanish during the winter.   Their move northward can mean that Austin no longer gets as much rain when it isn't summer.   Austin is located exactly at 30 degrees north latitude, the traditional boundary of the world's subtropical ridges.  This boundary has allegedly moved northward 70 miles.   I don't know if you all see rain storms suddenly with new southern limits at Waco, but I have; storm after storm after storm.   .  

During the medieval warming period and southwestern megadrought, a narrow current of air dramatically warmed.  This was set up most likely by a change in that long term northern Pacific oscillation. (the Pacific decadal oscillation), though it has never been properly explained.   The long term Atlantic currents also changed, helping Greenland to selectively melt - while the polar region did not melt - and warming northern Europe.   Both Greenland and northern Europe were warmer than they are now, but the rest of the planet did not warm.    Texas, however, did get hot, which did nothing good for its drought.  We know all of this the same way we know what did warm up; tree ring, ice core and ocean core data.   

Growing rice on flooded fields along the Colorado River is no longer sustainable.   Rice growers on the lower Colorado River need to grow rice without flooding the fields or grow a different crop.   They will not still be able to farm fish, as they are now doing.   The Lower Colorado River Authority has petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to cut off the next round of flooding the rice fields, which gives the rice farmers the river to plan a new crop or a new way of growing rice.   If they plant rice again and rely on flooded fields, they certainly will experience serious loss, and since they know that at this time, they have no right to expect anyone to save them.   Anyone who encourages the rice farmers' efforts to preserve their outmoded and unsustainable practices is setting them up to lose everything they have, and setting up the city of Austin to run out of water.  Below is a section on how to grow rice; it actually isn't true that rice can only be grown on flooded fields.   What is more some parts of the world that have the same problem are changing to more sustainable crops.  

Australia is also experiencing expansion of the subtropical deserts, and many of its farmers are switching to growing barley, an ancient crop that will grow in a dry climate.   Unlike rice, barley is good for you.   My blood sugar dropped 15 points since I switched from rice to barley with my dinner two years ago.   Our ancestors ate a diet of primarily barley, rye and oats and occasionally a little wheat and had no access to rice.    

If the LCRA allows the rice farmers to flood their fields, the rice will fail and the farmers will suffer big losses, the rice farmers will definitely be out of business, AND the city of Austin will have no drinking water as soon as next summer.   

That the editors of the Houston Chronicle think anything else could happen is really scary.  They aren't extreme environmentalists, they aren't even liberals, and they are widely believed to be intelligent people with heads.    People in Houston are typically by nature far less "weird" than people in Austin, where local officials and newspaper editors do routinely lose their minds.    

I know that the environmentalists at my church are focusing more on teaching people to save water.   I wish that meant my minister weren't watering his large lawn full of St. Augustine grass.   I must confess that I myself just realized that green grass is not currently a viable option, and I am glad that my landlord's apparent sheer skinflintiness saved me from the shame of having green or even living grass around my building.    

Most of all, environmentalists, and the state and local governments and river water authorities who listen to them, need to recognize the severity of the climate crisis that affects central and eastern Texas.   Even the Dallas area, which normally gets more rain, has been affected.    

The area needs to adapt to desert living, as the southwestern U.S. has had to adapt to desert living.   Upriver cities like Austin are close to running out of water.  Some area rivers have dried up, and some nearby cities are already running out of water.   Our reservoirs are only half full, if that, down from almost full a year ago.   The city of Austin will not have water to drink if our water is sent downstream to maintain flooded rice fields and in a hopeless attempt to stave off climate change induced salinization of the river estuaries and bays.

Below I have collected articles, including scholarly papers, on the climate prognosis for Texas.   All of the scientific experts agree that at best, Texas is in for a period of prolonged extreme drought.   We need to plan on adapting to desert living for atleast the next ten years, and maybe a lot longer.  We're talking about true desert here.  I collected historical information on the last several climactic fluctuations that affected Texas.   Look at the photos of the Dust Bowl.  During the medieval megadrought, Kansas was covered by huge sand dunes, and thriving sophisticated agricultural societies in the southwest were destroyed.   What is more, bad farming practices didn't by themselves cause what happened, nor did improved farming practices alone fix it.   .

One thing I don't go into is all the alternative industrial uses the state of Texas is currently wasting large quantities of water on.   One of these is fracking; the practice of blasting tremendous amounts of water and toxic chemicals through underground rock in order to extract oil or natural gas.   This is a growing large scale enterprise west of Dallas, and increasingly in southeast Texas.   They do it multiple times, on each well.   There are many serious problems associated with fracking.   It is often done on peoples' property, next to their homes, because of trickery, heavy pressure and other tactics by the companies that are doing it.  It massively pollutes the air, the ground, and particularly the ground water.    It is causing major problems in parts of Pennsylvania, where it has been done longer, and the state of New York recently refused to allow it to be done there.   This doesn't happen to be a problem along the Colorado River because the layers of rock that are rich in oil and natural gas are thin here.   

Another controversial industrial use the LCRA does want to do with the water in the Colorado River is build a new coal-burning power plant.   I think that the water would be used for cooling.   There is not currently a good way to fuel or cool a power plant; they necessarily use coal, natural gas, water, or nuclear power, they all are very damaging to the environment, and they all waste and pollute a lot of water..   This is why we should be looking into other ways to generate electricity instead.   After last summer I should think our government would be willing to wait and see if we need more power plants.   People did a beautiful and very successful job of conserving electricity, proving it is possible.      

SEPTEMBER 2013 UPDATE

Lakes - 30% full.   Lake Travis Elevation 618.67.   

Highland Lakes Releases for Agricultural Irrigation in 2013

Most farmers in the lower Colorado River basin are going without irrigation water from the Highland Lakes for the second year in a row.

This historic cutoff of Highland Lakes water became official at 11:59 p.m. on March 1, when the combined storage of lakes Travis and Buchanan was less than 850,000 acre-feet. That is the trigger point in an emergency drought relief order requested by LCRA and approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on February 13. Combined storage at 11:59 p.m. was 822,782 acre-feet, or 40.9 percent full.

With the emergency relief, farmers in the Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions will not receive any water from the Highland Lakes this year.

LCRA Board also voted at its Sept 18 meeting to petition TCEQ not to send water downstream to Matagorda Bay for relief of the mussels and other species threatened by the drought.

Historic U.S. drought will continue into spring and summer, experts say.  Rick Grow.  Washington Post.  2/22/2013.   

 

LOCAL CONDITIONS IN THE AUSTIN AREA

No more outdoor watering in Austin by spring?   Austin Statesman, October 18, 2011.  With this year's conditions expected to last through next year, the LCRA may force Austin to stop watering lawns and trees while it debates, and realizes it needs to ban most watering of lawns andtrees.

Lake Travis is just above 13 feet above its all time low.  LCRA slide show showing how low the river is.   (I can't find this page on 12/26)

Current drought pales in compaison with 1950's "drought of record" Austin Statesman Aug 4, 2011

Llano River runs dry.   Austin Statesman, June 15, 2011.   And summer was just getting started.   Town of Llano left within 90 days of running out of water.  Nearby communities including San Antonio forced to curb water use 35%.   

What if a River Stops Flowing?  The Llano may soon find out.   June 24, 2011.   During the drought of the 50's, the Llano ran dry and water had to be trucked in.  

Texas Driving its Cattle North Amid Drought   Kate Galbraith, LA Times, Oct 8, 2011.   Larger cattle ranches north of Austin are culling their herds and sending their best stock north to leased land in Colorado and Nebraska, in an effort to save their "brands".   Smaller farms are selling off the stock.  Cattle are starved and scrawny.   Hay cannot be obtained to feed them.   Price per pound has nearly dropped in half.   

NOAA's New Normal for Texas: Hotter.   Austin Statesman, October 9, 2011.   Reviews economic losses.  State's climate scientist says drought could last another decade.   Climate of all of the United States has warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970's.   Most models say the southwest is likely to move into hotter and drier periods.   

More water restrictions seem likely as drought continues  Austin Statesman 10/16/2011

Drought hampers wildlife reproduction  Austin Statesman (AP) October 13, 2011

Dead trees will mar Texas landscape for years.  Austin Statesman (AP), October 14, 2011

Long term consequences of Texas worst ever drought.   Business Insider.  August 8, 2011.  Yes, the drought is why cockroaches are a bigger problem in homes this year.  Like all wildlife, they're desperate for water.  

Parched soil takes toll on roads, slabs, pipes.  Ben Wear.  Austin Statesman.   October 15, 2011.  Part of a week long series on the drought.  Austin building foundations, roads and lawns are developing huge cracks.  Also, the Lady Johnson Wildflower Center, Williamson County (infrastructure director Bob Daigh) and Texas A&M are working on a drought resistant mix of grass seed to prevent erosion in construction areas.

Drought devastating to Texas ranchers and farmers.   Austin Statesman.   October 17, 2011.    

Ranchers hunt feverishly for hay in parched Texas.   Beaumont Enterprise.   October 21, 2011.   One rancher said, "People don't have a clue.  It looks like someone sprayed roundup all over the state of Texas."   Many ranchers are feeding their cattle rice straw in place of hay, because hay is too expensive and hard to find.  Rice straw cannot meet the minimum nutritional needs of cattle; it can't even keep them alive.  

Catastrophic drought in Texas causes global economic ripples.   Kate Galbraith  New York Times.  October 30, 2011.   half the U.S. cotton crop and a quarter of the world's cotton grows in Texas, much of it unirrigated or "dryland" cotton on the high plains of northern Texas northward along the land east of the Rocky Mountains (see the dust bowl below; the high plains is subject to "dust bowls" caused by cyclical desertification of this region).  This year 60% of Texas' crop did not grow.  Corn, wheat, and peanuts are also hurt.   The drought extends across large parts of Oklahoma and Louisiana as well as Texas, and the rest of the southwest.  Many cattle are being fed a sub-nutritious mixture ground from cotton crop waste, which is in short supply because so much of the cotton crop failed.  Scientists think that the simple fact that temperatures are getting higher increases the impact of the droughts that the region is prone to.  

Texas Drought Unkind to Wildlife Durango Herald, 10/20/2011.   Wildlife numbers are dropping, even cedar trees in the hill country are dying, and in many areas deer are dying like flies.  

Weekend rain brings little drought relief.   American Statesman.   October 10, 2011.    The city of Austin got between an inch and a half and two inches of rain, the first significant rain since June 22.   Despite three to five inches of rain upstream from the highland lakes, the storm raised the level of Lake Travis by one foot.   Lake Travis is now 38% full, up from 37% full.  (If Austin got a full year of normal rain the water levels in our reservoirs and aquifers would not substantially recover. )  

Some people really aren't going to be impressed by anything else. ...   Drought no laughing matter for Central Texas football fields.  Austin Statesman, October 10, 2011.  (Them three inch cracks are in my back yard as well - and that's dying Bermuda grass, not St. Augustine.)

Austin will pay you to let St. Augustine grass die, Austin Statesman, September 19, 2011.  The city will pay for installation of Bermuda grass, and also of native plants - atleast until they run out of money.   I do have the idea that most people planted St. Augustine grass because they were told it was appropriate for the climate, which, officially, is humid subtropical.   St. Augustine, a water hog, grows well where there is plenty of moisture.   It can only be planted from sod, so it is expensive to install.  It is ugly, it doesn't look like grass, and it requires alot of water, so people would only have been likely to have planted it because they were told to.   Unfortunately this could render people reluctant to install the kind the experts are advising now, even though the first advice was clearly a massive mistake.   Bermuda grass can evidently be planted from seed or sod.   Any grass growing plan at all would have to wait for a break in the drought..  The good news is that if people would grow something as ugly and un-grasslike as St. Augustine's grass, they may be more likely than people normally would be to grow native plants.     

Please water your trees during the drought  Austin Heritage Tree Foundation.   Don't water your lawns - but do water your trees.

Drought harms conditions for wintering waterfowl.  Houston Chronicle.  11-2-2011.   Record drought has severely reduced coastal marsh habitat for wintering ducks and geese.  

 

If we thought water for rice farming was stupid, wait, here comes a power plant.   Power plant in Matagorda County gains in water fight.   Houston Chronicle.  June 13, 2011.  White Stallion Energy Center, 90 miles southwest of Houston.   To be sure, electricity is more critically important than rice, but I bet it can be done without, and it would be unheard of for a present day power plant to not be wasteful, environmentally destructive and often dangerous.

How Energy Drains Water Supplies  Kate Galbraith, New York Times, October 15, 2011  According to this article, current methods of generating electricity are not sustainable in a drying climate.  50% of the water withdrawn from the nation's lakes and streams every year goes toward energy production.   Even though electric power plants have gotten better at returning the water they use to the streams, it may not be there to use in the first place.  Fracking also uses tremendous amounts of water in some parts of Texas.   By 2020, fracking operations near Dallas could use up to 13% of the ground water in local aquifers per year.   

Watching Rainfall with Power Needs in Mind: 9000 megawatts in Texas depend on scarce supplies  Texas Energy Report, October 13, 2011.  Not the whole article, which is deigned to be shared only with "subscribers".   

Texas drought endangers power projects.  ABC News.  11/2/2011.   Sufficient water cannot be found for the White Stallion coal power plant project on the lower Colorado River.   Company that wants to build the plant hopes to buy ground water from farmers.   Local farmers, who of all things grow rice, say they don't have enough to grow their crops next spring.  

Amid Texas Drought: High Stakes Battle over Water.  Kate Galbraith,  New York Times,   June 18, 2011.   This article details the competition for the water of the lower Colorado River.   The rapidly growing city of Austin only uses half as much water as the rice farmers.  Environmentalists, like Mike Mecke, are adamant about keeping water flowing to save the oysters in Matagorda Bay from  salinization due to climate change.  That would explain why Mike Mecke cares what happens in Galveston Bay, which according to the Houston Chronicle editorial he posted also contains mussels that face similar fate..  The Riparian listserv covers all of the rivers of Texas.   By his Roadrunner domain, he lives in the vicinity of Corpus Christi, Eagle Pass, Kerrville and Laredo.   Sammy Ray, marine biologist at Texas A&M University in Galveston, thinks the oysters face little chance if there is little rain this fall, but actual powers that be are still insisting on using large quantities of water that human communities on the rivers need to save them.   The city of Austin wants to keep more water in the lakes than the "evolving consensus allows", and Greg Maszaros, director of the Austin Water Utility, shares Mike Mecke's view that all the city of Austin needs or wants water for is to water its landscape..  It would serve some of these idiots right if the rivers run dry.   As for the White Stallion Energy Center, it is to be a coal burning plant.   It would have to be coal burning, gas burning or nuclear, so it could hardly be desirable.

 We also learn a detail not shared elsewhere; the two lakes that serve as Austin's principle reservoirs were as of June only 28% full.   The LCRA prefers to tell us they're about 50% full at this time, in September.   Yet water flowing into them from upstream has severely dropped.   

San Antonio keeps water flowing amid a deep drought.  USA Today October 11, 2011

Elsewhere in Texas, large quantities of water are being used for fracking.; the practice of blasting tremendous quantities of water and toxic chemicals through underground rock to extract oil or natural gas.   This is particularly a problem west of Dallas, and in southeastern Texas, in very dry land.  The practice is carried out near human habitation, as a result of petroleum industry trickery, and contamination of land, groundwater and air is a huge problem.   

Here's hope.   LCRA water permit amounts to massive expansion of water supplies.   Austin Statesman.   April 25, 2011.   LCRA got from the state permits to build, over the next ten years, two reservoirs near the coast, to collect water during rainy times, and pipe it back upstream.   I suppose it would also be used to supply sacred rice farming, and the multiple power plants that evidently occupy the lower part of the river.  One can hope there would be any water left to pipe back to Austin.

956 Texas water systems on restrictions  Austin Statesman 11/1/2011.   Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioner tells state Senate Natural Resources Committee that state water systems are running out of water.   Rather a different story than the Texas Water Development Board's claim that state water resources can be expected to decline just 10% by 2050, due almost entirely to declining use of two aquifers.  

Mexico is suffering from the drought as well.

The sun-baked northern states of Mexico are suffering under the worst drought since the government began recording rainfall 70 years ago. Crops of corn, beans and oats are withering in the fields. About 1.7 million cattle have died of starvation and thirst

Mexican farmers have lost 2.2 million acres (900,000 hectares) of crops to dry conditions and 1.7 million farm animals have died this year from lack of water or forage, according to the nation's Agriculture Department.

Durango, a sprawling inland state about 150 miles (250 kilometers) south of Texas, holds 1.3 million acres (540,000) acres of planted land. Of that, "85 percent has been damaged and the rest has had a very low yield," said Rene Almeida, the Agriculture Department's top official in the state, which was once known as a film setting for John Wayne westerns.

The situation also is critical for ranchers. At least 30,000 cattle have died in Durango this year from lack of food and water, Almeida said.

Most years, Guillermo Marin harvests 10 tons of corn and beans from his fields in this harsh corner of Mexico. This year, he got just a single ton of beans. And most of the 82-year-old farmer's fellow growers in this part of Durango state weren't able to harvest anything at all.

"I almost got a ton of beans. ..," said Marin, who depends on his crops to sustain himself and the seven grown children who work with him

Cause is same - normal rainfall 22 inches, this year 12 inches, just above the formal definition of desert rainfall.  NOT, notice, NO rainfall.  12 inches/ year is just above desert conditions.

If farmers in Mexico can't harvest crops, you know what that means.  More Mexicans with "the seven grown children who work with him" and all their kin flooding into Texas.  

 

WATER ISSUES AROUND THE GLOBE

See how they save water in the deserts of Mexico,  how they learned to save water in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and how much water farmers waste as compared to the amount of water used by people in cities.   The Last Drop.   National Geographic, April 2010.   

This map of the drought includes N Mexico, Texas, and northern Florida, but leaves out much of the southwestern U.S. It also leaves off the high plains, which are also suffering extreme drought.

RESOURCES TO KEEP TRACK OF THE CURRENT DROUGHT AND OFFICIAL PLANS OF ACTION  

Drought baking the southern United States.  NOAA Climate Watch

Texas Water Resources Institute Drought Newsletter  October 2011  In 2020, the drought continues, and, wait for it ... Texas coastal rice farmers are switching to another crop.  

U.S. Drought Assessment - Climate Prediction center

NOAA Drought Outlook, September to November 2011

ENSO Diagnostic Discussion - U.S. Climate Prediction Center.  Also Weekly ENSO update and climate diagnostics bulletin.

ENSO Advisory - Diagnostic discussion - three month period.

LCRA Drought page

Texas Drought: Drought approaches worst in history.  Saved from LCRA web page, Sept. 30, 2011.   

 LCRA water supply status 

Texas completes key groundwater planning step.  Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune.  State Water Development Board.  From September of last year, concerns state and local 50 year water plans.   

Texas water needs report downplays climate shift   State water plan is criticized, since climate experts expect Texas to warm and dry with climate change. This article is from 2007.  However, the state's failure to acknowledge climate change is certainly consistent with trying to save rice growing on the Colorado River and mussels in Galveston Bay.   Texas' climate scientists do seem to be pulling out of this state of denial recently, despite Republican politics and environmentalist foggy headedness such that wants to save mussels in the river estuaries and rice farming on the Lower Colorado River.  More recent state publications admit to a problem and suggest NOT giving priority to water for the rice farmers.  

 Draft water plan says Texas will not have enough.  KEYE Austin.   Texas Water Development Board.  Five year state plan.   Says Texas won't have enough.

 Draft Water Plan Says Texas "Will Not Have Enough"  Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune, Sept 27, 2011

2011 Texas Water Development Board Draft Water Plan   The Texas Water Development Board's draft 2012 State Water Plan is now available online for public review and comment through Oct. 25.  To ensure that the public has ample opportunity to review the plan,TWDB staff will hold public meetings around the state, and conduct a formal public hearing on Oct. 17, 2011, in Austin.  Information on specific locations and times is available on our website.  Please contact Kathleen Ligon at 512-463-8294 for more information.  Courtesy Texas Water Development Board.

Interview with TWDB official on draft water plan  Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune

More concerns about drought as fall deepens, by the SciGuy (Eric Berger), on the Houston Chronicle web site.  He presents the Texas Water Development Board's own data for region 14, the greater Houston area, showing that water capacity in that area is already down 50% (as opposed to the TWDB's projection of water capacity in the state dropping just 10% by 2060, due entirely to less taken from two aquifers)   He also states that the water supply in that area is at 58%, and may recover slightly over the winter with lessened use in cold weather and normal rainfall.   He says the problem is a repeat of La Nina - no rainfall.   Then he discusses the specific chances that it will rain next week.   I don't know whether the Houston area is doing better in the current drought, relative to the rest of Texas, or not; though normally their region gets higher rainfall I suspect that they have not done so in the past several years.   Since it looks like his blog changes regularly I have saved this page in pdf format.  

LCRA Weather Blog- usually Bob Rose has relatively intelligent discussions about current long term weather conditions.  For instance, on Nov 30 he wrote that the twice a week rainstorms in Texas in the past two weeks and constant cold fronts are a blip in the long term pattern, which has not changed.  

See September 15 on ongoing drought.  Quoted here since eventually it will disappear from that page.

"Drought Conditions Forecast to Continue into Next Year: The National Weather Service released its updated seasonal outlook earlier today and for Texas, the outlook remains bleak. With the recent announcement that weak La Nina conditions have already returned in the tropical Pacific, a trend of below normal rainfall is forecast for October and for the period between October and next April. Temperatures throughout the period are forecast to be above normal.

"With a forecast for below normal rain this fall and winter, I don’t expect much change in the drought over the next several months. In fact, today’s updated Drought Outlook for the period of October through December calls for “drought persistence” across all of Texas. Bad news indeed!   While the forecast is for below normal rain, I do expect some periods of rain, especially in October. But as I’ve stated before, there’s still no clear end in sight to the current exceptional drought."

LCRA board adopts drought relief measures, Brenda Sommer, Wharton Journal Spectator, September 24, 2011

Texas drought could be extended by rare third year of La Nina. Southwest Farm Press December 2011.  Attributes the notion to the NOAA, but doesn't specifically explain why the NOAA thinks so.   Nielson-Gammon, who must be a real piece of work, does his usual vacillating - assuming he really said it.   The third paragraph is actually attributed to someone else.  It is typical of Nielson-Gammon to say that the world is clearly tending to come to an end ,but we don't really know anything, and what will happen is anyone's guess.  Since evidently pretty much everything said in the article was both misquoted and misattributed, maybe Nielson-Gammon really said the third paragraph that sounds so much like him.

"Nielson-Gammon says climate experts are collecting data now and are expected to publish their findings by next summer, which will indicate whether the drought will see a third consecutive year of drought or if El Niño will bring much needed rain to a parched Southwest.

....

""Nielson-Gammon warns, however, that Texas temperatures have been increasing over recent decades, which contributes to evaporation and soil dryness and other factors that exacerbate drought.

“It’s going to be a wait-and-see summer regardless the forecast because of all the variables. We can offer our best forecast based upon the scientific evidence we collect, but in the end it’s anyone’s guess what will develop,” Mace added."  (Are things going to be terrible, or can we not predict the future?)

I wrote to Klaus Wolter, the only NOAA scientist cited in the article.  He says that the article seriously misquoted everyone it cited, but that he did say that there is a 40% chance of a 3rd year of La Nina.  He provided only one clue to why he thinks so.  Before he said that, he explained that this sentence is particularly mangled.

"Back-to-back La Niña events are unusual, having happened only ten times in the last 100 years, according to Texas State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, and only five of those developed into a third year La Niña, the last time happening in the 1950s."

Klaus Wolter "did the analysis" that underlies this statement, not Nielsen-Gammon.  In four of the ten cases, rather than five, the last two being in the 1970's and around 2000, rather than the last one in the 1950's, La Nina went on for three years.  I'm not clear on what he meant, but it looks possible that the 40% probability of what will happen next year is based on the fact that 40% of two-year la ninas that have been tracked went on for three years, rather than something specific that makes it look likely that this la nina will continue past this year.  He seems to repeat that the NOAA will decide what they really think La Nina is going to do next year this spring.  That makes sense out of the end of the article, which seems to contradict the conclusion that the NOAA thinks that there is a 40% liklihood of a 3rd year of La Nina with the conclusion that by the way, we won't have any idea what La Nina is going to do until next spring.  

Incidentally, an attempt to learn from the publisher of the Southwest Farm Press how to contact the author, Logan Hawkes, who did all this mangling and misquoting, got a reply that I need to ask the publisher of the publication where he wrote it.  

Meeting Water Needs in a Changing Environment:  The Las Vegas Story.   Strange document; the work of Austin-style urban planners.   The authors state that all people use water for in Las Vegas is to water the lawns.   This makes the results something of a miracle.   They detail some of the means by which the city of Las Vegas achieved sustainability.   Austin's urban planners are as weird, so they can learn from these people.   Good photos of the desert environment, and of Las Vegas.   

MORE ON THE CURRENT DROUGHT CYCLE

Central Texas drought:  Dire or dwindling?   KXAN, Jim Spencer, May 13, 2014.

The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond.  Susan Coombs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.   Includes diagnosis of climate cycles (Atlantic decadal, Pacific decadal, ENSO) that contribute to the current drought.

Current U.S. drought cycle seems to be a long-term one.   P.J. Griekspoor.   Dakota Farmer.   Februrary 2012.

Despite recent rain, drought lingers in Dallas-Fort Worth.   Michael E. Young.  Dallas News.   July 28 2013.

“The key word in Pacific Decadal Oscillation is ‘decadal,’ because it seems to last about 30 years, and we’re 15 years into it,” Mace said. “John Nielsen-Gammon has said this means we have a greater propensity for drought for the next 10 or 15 years.”

Likewise, the AMO has been in a warm phase since the 1990s, a pattern linked to hot, dry weather in the southwestern U.S. And the eastern-central Pacific, home of El Niño and La Niña, was cooler than normal from mid-2010 through early 2012 and neutral since then, another factor in drought.

Historic U.S. drought will continue into spring and summer, experts say.   Rick Grow.  Washingotn Post.   2/22/13.   

WHY THE RAIN IN LATE NOVEMBER TO EARLY DECEMBER 2011?

La nina remains in place, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (see below) remains in place, and the arctic oscillation remains positive, which should keep cold air bottled up up north instead of plummeting south.  Superficially it looks like nothing has changed.  

Nevertheless suddenly for three weeks from the last week of the normal rainy season into December, it is raining for half of every week - about an inch to an inch and a half a week.  Is the drought over?

Most likely not, according to Bob Rose, weather forecaster of the LCRA.   Here is what he said in his e-mail to me on November 30, quoted by permission.   

"I’m not sure.  In addition, some of the best meteorologists and climatologist don’t exactly know either.  I had the opportunity to ask several , such as Klaus Wolter and Dr. N-G their opinion on this Tuesday and no one had a good answer.  The one item that could be causing this is the MJO.  While it’s not in the correct phase for much influence over North America, CPC states it’s quite active at the current time and may be overwhelming the dry influence from La Nina.  It’s interesting a ridge of high pressure has persisted over the Gulf of Alaska for several weeks now and the Pacific storms are moving over the ridge and plunging south along the West Coast instead of tracking east across the northern plains.  Something is causing the storms to track south-southeast out of the northwest, then pull east into the southern Plains.  The pattern continues to repeat.  Some of the models indicate this pattern will modify some in another 10 days or so.  But as of now, I’m not really sure.  It’s certainly not the expected signal during a weak to moderate La Nina."

Technical definitions below.

Bob Rose's Nov 30 LCRA weather blog saved from LCRA weather blog page.  In his videos on Nov 30 and Dec 2, Bob Rose says that the rainfall is welcome but one month of normal rainfall won't even make much of a dent in the water levels of the rivers, and that while the rain is welcome it would need 40 inches to return to normal conditions.  Over the long term La Nina is still in effect and a drier than normal winter is still forecast.

The CPC is the Climate Prediction Center.  Their seasonal outlook page (saved December 2011 outlook) discusses the effect of the MJO, which is the Madden-Julian Oscillation.   It evidently isn't exactly what Bob Rose saw on their web pages; he explains that this discussion pretty much overlooks Texas.   He isn't wrong in thinking that the MJO would be hard for most people to understand.  It has a two or three month periodicity and moves in a steady pattern, and it can change La Nina weather by causing tropical moisture and cold air to abruptly descend from Alaska as has been happening in late November and early December.   If that's what has disrupted la Nina it won't last long, and if it isn't it also probably won't last long, and it probably isn't a hopeful sign of things to come.  

NOAA ENSO Diagnostic Discussion for Winter 2012.

Wikipedia article on the Madden-Julian Oscillation, if you want to read it.

Drought to continue in Southern Plains CNN Oct 20 Article mentions that changes in the Arctic Oscillation (see below) can overwhelm La Nina by pushing cold and precipitation southward.

 

HISTORY: MEDIEVAL MEGADROUGHTS

During a period about 500 years long, roughly corresponding with the medieval warming period and beginning of the little ice age, the southeast, south central and high plains regions virtually became desert.   There was massive starvation among the Indians.  The sophisticated advanced societies of the southwestern U.S. were destroyed.  The area was just beginning to recover when the Spanish invaded at the end of the 15th century.   The dryest periods were in the middle of the 12th century and the end of the 13th century.

A Christian children's novel, Walk the World's Rim, depicts Indians of east central Texas around 1500 as experiencing conditions so severe that people ate roasted fish skeletons gathered from dry stream beds in place of fish, and food was virtually available when the prickly pear cactus was in season.   At best people migrated from place to place following each season's only available kind of food, and might miss nutritious food 30 miles away.   No sources are given for this notion.   The book misrepresents the hunting and gathering way of life as intrinsically inclined to that sort of problem.  Actually under normal conditions, hunters and gatherers eat plentifully of a balanced diet, though land can support a much higher population of agricultural peasants on a monotonous and nutritionally substandard diet.  Hunters and gatherers also characteristically trade over long distances and don't miss out on what's 30 miles away.  The book depicts hunters and gatherers as impoverished, troubled, and in need of salvation by Christianity.  At the end of the book the hero decides to bring Christianity and agriculture from Mexico to his village, without raising any questions about the hero's problematic belief that Christian ritual magically guarantees the crops, nor how crops would grow in a land where supposedly the rivers and streams had gone dry and the only food was cactus in its season.  The scientific evidence seems to be that the land was recovering in the 15th century.   

However the Indians were socially and militarily still weakened by the effects of the great drought, and atleast in the southwestern U.S. not fully up to facing the Spanish.   In central America this does not seem to have been the problem.  I believe that I saw a documentary on the Spanish conquest that argued that the Aztecs sacrificed massive numbers of their own people because they were under extreme environmental stress at the time, and this is why the Spanish found it so easy to conquer them.   According to more documentaries on the Aztecs and the Spanish conquest, and one on the subject of mass sacrifices in Tenochtlitlan, current scholarship holds that the Aztecs came to power and formed their empire during the period between the last century of the megadrought and the Spanish conquest.  They came from the north, conceivably because of the drought, and were attracted to the rainforest around what is now Mexico City.  The Aztecs ruled by terror and brutality, over people who feared and hated them.   They ruled a network of local leadership who they left in control, and when anyone revolted they carried out horrible police actions involving mass sacrifice of prisoners.  Things gradually deteriorated.  Thirty years before the Spanish conquest the Aztecs decided to send a message.   They rounded up twenty thousand or more prisoners (reports gave up to 80,000, and the walls the victims' skulls were displayed on suggest 60,000), and sacrificed them in a single very well organized four day festival in Tenochlitlan.  They had teams of priests working in industrial fashion at nineteen altars around the city.  All the local officials and diplomats in the empire had to come and watch.   Theologically the point was to enable the sun god to get up in the morning, but actually the point was to demonstrate that they were both willing and able to do such a thing.   Cortez with his five hundred nonprofessional soldiers, thirty or so horses and next to impossible to shoot muskets had no trouble recruiting about ten thousand Indians to their ranks in a joint effort to defeat the hated Aztecs.   Indians came running out of the woodwork to join up with the Spanish.       

On the other hand, possibly supporting the bleak picture of east central Texas ca 1520 painted in Walk the World's Rim, I recently saw a statement about severe drought in the southeastern U.S. at the end of the 16th century, that among other things destroyed the Roanoke colony and threatened Jamestown.   That, however, occurred at the end of the 16th century to early 17th century. The Lost Colony and Jamestown Droughts, David Stahl et al, Science, 4/24/1998.  

"Early Spanish references to Virginia climate further validate the accuracy of this tree-ring reconstruction at the opening of the colonial period. In September 1570 Father Juan Batista de Segura wrote that the Chesapeake Bay region had experienced 6 years of maize and wild-fruit shortages, famine, death, and parched soil ( 8). This is consistent with the reconstruction of July PHDI, which indicates a prolonged drought from 1562 to 1571 that was most severe from 1565 to 1569 (Fig. 3). Segura's commentary also documents the sensitivity of the native Algonquian subsistence system to prolonged drought, which we estimate recurred with equal or greater severity during the English settlement of Roanoke and Jamestown.

"Tree-ring data from Virginia indicate that the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island disappeared during the most extreme drought in 800 years (1587-1589) and that the alarming mortality and the near abandonment of Jamestown Colony occurred during the driest 7-year episode in 770 years (1606-1612). These extraordinary droughts can now be implicated in the fate of the Lost Colony and in the appalling death rate during the early occupations at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. "

"The tree growth anomaly map for the period 1587-1589 (Fig. 4A) indicates that the Lost  Colony  drought  affected  the  entire  southeastern  United  States  but  was  particularly  severe  in  the Tidewater region near Roanoke."

How drought record from long-lived Mexican trees may illuminate fates of past civilizatons.  Science Daily.  Feb 3 2011.   Stahle, Geophysical Research Letters, upcoming.

1149  - 1167 AD - southwestern drought extended into Mexico - collapse of Toltec civilizaton.  

827 - 922 AD, extended into central Mexican highlands, fall of Maya cvilization.  

IS THERE EVIDENCE OF LONG-TERM DROUGHTS IN THE SOUTHWEST? The Mega-drought of the 16th century

Researchers Find Evidence Of 16th Century Epic Drought Over North America  Science Daily (Feb. 8, 2000)

Archival records from the Spanish colony of Santa Elena on Parris Island, S.C., indicate a severe drought from 1566-69. In 1587 -- the year Sir Walter Raleigh's colony on Roanoke Island disappeared -- the Parris Island settlers abandoned their colony. Tree ring records show the year was the region's worst drought in 800 years

The scientists used some chronologies that date back more than 1,000 years to reconstruct the past climate of North America and Mexico and unearth the epic drought of the 16th century.

The severely dry weather over the Southwest and northern Mexico may explain why some American Indians in these areas abandoned their pueblos between 1540 and 1598

Walk the World's Rim, Betty Baker, novel about an Indian boy traveling with Cabez de Vaca, discusses in grim detail dry conditions and starvation among Indians of eastern or central Texas.

But this too was at the end of the 16th century.  It was part of the five hundred year megadrought, and according to this study, it's driest phase.  

"The researchers used drought-sensitive tree ring chronologies that extend back before A.D. 1500 from trees in Western North America, the Southeast and the Great Lakes. They found that dry conditions extended from the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico and the Southwest to the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi Valley throughout the last half of the 1500s. Severe conditions occurred at times in Mexico, the Southwest, Wyoming and Montana, and the Southeast.

"Looking back as far as A.D. 1200, no other drought appears to have been as intense, prolonged and widespread as the 16th century megadrought, the researchers found.

"Climate varies within a certain envelope, with a drier spell one year and a damp one the next, but in the 1500s "the basement collapsed and went down to another level," said David Stahle, professor of geosciences at the University of Arkansas. "

Cook, Edward R. et al.  Long-term aridity changes in the Western United States.   Science.  2004 (Nov 5).  Vol 306. pg 1015-1018

Previous periods of severe drought in the southwestern U.S.   At times during the medieval periods of drought, huge sand dunes covered Nebraska.  While some online documents argue that the only megadrought occurred in the late 16th century, Richard Seager says that actually the Spanish conquest coincided with the return of moist conditions, but the Spanish probably did not allow the southwestern Indians to reconstruct the advanced irrigation systems necessary to restoring their agriculture.   There seems to be doubt when that drought occurred, but it was catastrophic.  The picture painted in "Walk the World's Rim", a children's historical novel about an Indian boy in Texas at the time of the Spanish conquest, is that the people subsisted on roasted fish skeletons, walnuts in season, and prickly pear cactus in season and were starving; this may not be unrealistic.  

The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations By Brian Fagan  Book.  Fagan thinks we are entering a 20 to 30 year long dry period in a long term Pacific oscillation.  

Hyrdrological Variability and Change   (Chapt 3 in U.S. Climate Change Science Program:  Synthesis and Assessment Report 3.4. Abrupt Climate Change)  Megadroughts may have been caused by cool Pacific, warm subtropical north Atlantic, external greater irradiation from sun, lower volcanic activity.   Slowing hyaline circulation may cause drought in southern U.S. before it causes another ice age.  AMOC- Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation - same thing - expected to slow over this century.

After the 1997/98 El Nino, the southwestern United States entered a drought that has persisted until the time of this writing (July 2007).  ... Studies of the instrumental record make it clear that western North America is a region of strong meterological and hydrological variability in which, in the midst of dramatic year to year variability, there are extended droughts and pluvials (wet periods) running from a few years to a decade."

There is agreement that cold eastern Pacific SST's and warm subtropical Atlantic SST's tends to cause drought in the southwest and the southern plains.

Warm SST anomalies in the Atlantic are usually referred to as part of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and are of unknown origin.  A stronger overturning and a warmer north Atlantic Ocean would induce drying in southwestern North America.   .    

Drought of Record isn't worst case, study finds/ Water planners urged to base needs on centuries, not decades, of drought data (published under two titles, 12/21, 12/22/11) Austin Statesman.   

"Over the past 500 years, Central Texas has seen droughts far worse than the 1950s drought of record, according to a report commissioned by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and published Wednesday in the December issue of the Texas Water Journal.

"The drought of record was no aberration," researcher and authority Executive Manager Todd Votteler said. He and the study's other authors analyzed data from samples taken from Central Texas trees and other historical factors. "The tree-ring record showed that there were droughts that were more severe and lasted longer.

"... climatologists have said the state is in the midst of a 30-year dry weather pattern that began around the turn of the millennium, after a 30-year wet period. An even broader look at regional climatology shows that Central Texas has seen several 10- to 15-year droughts between 1500 and 2008, the report said.

"The Texas Water Development Board's policy says to plan for droughts as bad as the 1950s drought, citing a lack of reliable records for historic droughts before 1895. Most water planners don't deny that worse droughts have occurred in the past but say concrete rainfall data from a worse drought would be needed. The authors of today's report say that's a short-sighted view."

The study above - Extended chronology of drought in south central, southeastern and west texas.  Malcolm K. Cleaveland, Todd H. Votteler, Daniel K. Stahle, Richard C. Casteel, Jay L. Banner  Texas Water Journal, Vol 2, No 1 (2011)

Colorado River streamflow history reveals megadrought before 1490 Science News May 17, 2007.  Meko, Woodhouse and Baisan.  Study by University of Arizona Tucson  Published in Geophisical Research Letters May 24.  

"The biggest drought we find in the entire record was in the mid-1100s," said team leader David M. Meko, an associate research professor at UA's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. "I was surprised that the drought was as deep and as long as it was.

"Colorado River flow was below normal for 13 consecutive years in one interval of the megadrought, which spanned 1118 to 1179."

Most of this research is conducted by people who are currently at the University of Arkansas Department of Geosiences Tree Ring Laboratory.   They have a complete bibliography on their web site.  They also have links to their counterparts, such as at the University of Arizona.

HISTORY - THE OTHER MEGADROUGHT

Recent analysis of tree ring data from the southwest shows that a similar drought there in the 2nd century AD lasted for 50 years, within a broader period from 124 AD to 210 AD, but covering the first four centuries AD.  (The article itself appears to have not yet appeared in print and is available only for very limited access.)  This emphasizes that this region is prone to cyclical desertification and not to occasional historical accidents.   

University of Arizona scientists find evidence of Roman period megadrought  11/5/2011 press release

Pine trees help reconstruct a long ago megadrought  New York Times 11/7/2011

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/11/ancient-megadrought-american-west-.html Los Angeles Times 11/16/2011.   Every well written media article on the study presents the facts slightly differently, and I would love to have the actual article.   According to this version, "The composite tree-ring chronology, extending from 268 BC to AD 2009, shows that the longest dry periods in the entire record occurred during the first four centuries AD. The most pronounced drought lasted for about five decades in the second century."     

Scientists find evidence of ancient megadrought in southwestern U.S.   Science Daily, Nov 6, 2011.

Link to abstract of the paper:  Cory Craig Routson, Connie Woodhouse and Jonathan T. Overpeck.   Second century megadrought in the Rio Grande headwaters, Colorado; how unusual was medieval megadrought?   Geophysical Research Letters.  May not have been published in hard print yet.   "A new tree-ring record from living and remnant bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) wood from the headwaters region of the Rio Grande River, Colorado is used in conjunction with other regional records to evaluate periods of unusually severe drought over the past two millennia (B.C. 268 to A.D. 2009). Our new record contains a multi-century period of unusual dryness between 1 and 400 A.D., including an extreme drought during the 2nd century. Characterized by almost five decades of drought (below average ring width), we hypothesize this megadrought is equally, if not more severe than medieval period megadroughts in this region. Published paleoclimate time series help define the spatial extent, severity, and potential causes of the 2nd century megadrought. Furthermore, this early period of unusual dryness has intriguing similarities to later medieval period aridity. Our findings suggest we should anticipate similar severe drought conditions in an even warmer and drier future. "

 

HISTORY - THE DUST BOWL

The dust bowl was "just" a big drought.   Like in medieval times (when it was a good deal worse), much of Nebraska was covered in sand dunes.  And Oklahoma.  And Texas.  Think things got a little bit dry?   It didn't fail to rain for a year, or two, or even three..  There weren't three bad years out of four.  It did not rain, for over a decade.    The following photos are all from the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.   This wasn't no abused and eroded agricultural land, this was a desert.   These conditions cyclically repeat throughout the southwestern United States, even without global warming.   

The Sahara Desert, or eroded high plains farmland?  Now, why don't I think this photo is from 1935?  

Something about a medieval land covered by large sand dunes?

Sand storm, Spearman, Texas in northern panhandle

Whoops - it's the U.S., I guess it's a "dust storm".

This was the local almshouse.

You thought the dust bowl happened where?   Well, here's where it happened.

I was taught in school that the Dust Bowl was caused by poor farming practices.   Evidently the western Great Plains is transitional desert grassland and very vulnerable.    What saved it was partly the development of sustainable agricultural practices for that region, and partly the end of the drought - for then.   The people there learned sustainable ways to grow crops in this region.    But now it is not enough.  

Here's a photo from 2009.

Oh, no, I'm mixed up - that's the Sahara Desert.   Well, to be sure, it looks pretty similar...except for the sustainable livestock in place of half starved cattle pecking at donated hay and cotton plant waste in place of grain.  

Here's the actual photo of the Dust Bowl farmer in 2009.

Here's the article that goes with it.   Between November 2008 and March 2009, this agricultural district in Colorado got just .65 inches of rain.   This county was at the heart of the Dust Bowl.   Nothing they did wrong has brought it back.   

The following is from near Abilene, Texas; a cotton growing region. The article is below.   His cotton plants barely made it out of the ground.  

These Here's a farm field in Texas or Oklahoma.  

These Here's a Dallas cattle pasture.

In northern Mexico, dead cattle on road, and starved cow trying to eat a dead cactus.  

 

These two photos were retweeted by Kate Galbraith, environmental reporter.

A "haboob"?   Anything to not call a sandstorm a sandstorm.  Funny, Google Images has a whole mess of "sandstorms" that look just like a "haboob".  Here, for instance, is a "Kataha", or sandstorm, from Sudan.  

And here's a .... haboob over Khartoum, Sudan.   Haboob is evidently the Sudanese, or else Arabic, word for sandstorm.  Adopted by Texans specifically because it sounds like it means something other than a sandstorm.

Oh my gosh - can it be?   I thought this picture looked kind of familiar...   Well, those haboobs do all look pretty similar, even when they're in Texas in 2011.   Talk about a rose by another name.

Moving right along, here's a "sandstorm" from Iraq, otherwise called a "desert storm". Like, something that you get in a d-e-s-e-r-t.

However, granted, they looked more dramatic in 1935, so moving right along.. .  So here's another Iraqi sandstorm.

But the land did look more barren in black and white, didn't it?   

Did dust storms make the dust bowl worse?   Richard Seager discusses factors that contributed to the Dust Bowl.  He notes that while natural prairie grasses could survive a drought, wheat could not, and when the heat hit it shriveled.  Planting trees around the fields or furrowing them just right could not have saved the land from reverting to desert when the weather predictably got dry.   

To confirm that farming methods alone did not create the Dust Bowl, here is National Geographic's graphic of why the Dust Bowl may come back.  Evidently, neither changed farming methods nor increased rainfall were the entire story of how the land became fertile again.

If you have trouble reading it, it says, "When farmers abandoned their homesteads in Haskell County, Kansas, during the 1930s Dust Bowl, they had no idea they stood atop part of the High Plans aquifer, one of America's most abundant underground reservoirs.  Two decades later, water pumped from the aquifer transformed the region into the nation's breadbasket.  Today the county has about 1,100 producing wells, which nourish its $700-million farm economy.  But the withdrawal of water has greatly surpassed the aquifer's rate of natural replenishment from precipitation.  In a hundred years the aquifer under most of Haskell County will be unable to support the current rate of irrigation."   (National Geographic, June 1010.)I

Here is a clearer map of the High Plains.  Compare it with the map of the Dust Bowl above.

Here is the climate of the high plains.  (Wikipedia)  It's transitional desert or desert grassland.  

Finally, I was trying to check on exactly which state, Nebraska or Kansas, was covered by giant sand dunes during the medieval megadrought.  I learned much.   Discovery of Holocene Megadrought in Nebraska - the Past as Future?   They show photos of places on those medieval sand dunes, in Nebraska, where the desert is returning.

Wait a minute - the sand dunes weren't in Nebraska.  They were in Nebraska AND Kansas.  Sand dunes and megadroughts of Kansas   

Actually, those sand dunes were outright widespread.   Megadroughts and late holocene dune activation at the eastern margin of the Great Plains, north-central Kansas, US

SOUTHWEST IN PROLONGED SEVERE DROUGHT PHASE -

Drought in the southern United States has always recurred, in both short (decadal) and long (hundreds of years) phases, as well as with such events as ice ages, so global warming is part of the picture that may be aggravating a normal cycle or tipping it more toward desertification

A drought for the centuries:  It hasn't been this dry in Texas since 1789.  Texas Climate News, October 27, 2011.  Tree ring data, which goes back further in time than meterological data, shows that in the last 500 years, it was only this dry in 1789, after allowing for a margin of error.   

Heat sets southwestern climate back in time.

Model Projections of an Imminent Transition to a More Arid Climate in Southwestern North America.  .Richard Seager et. al.  Science 316 (2007) p 1181.   

Climate change to worsen water shortages in the US southwest.   

Southwest May Enter Into Permanent Drought-Like Conditions by Mid-Century  by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY  on 12.14.10 Science & Technology (science)

Scientists See the Southwest as First Major U.S. Climate Change Victim  By LAUREN MORELLO of ClimateWire   December 14, 2010

MacDonald, Glen M.  Water, climate change, and sustainability in the southwest.  Cited as discussing medieval megadrought but focuses on current patterns of climate change in the southwest.  

The December 14, 2010 issue of PNAS has six articles on climate change and water in the southwestern U.S.  

Texas Drought; Good news and bad news.  Houston Chronicle

Extremely Hot Summers Will Soon Be the Norm, Scientists Say   September 15th, 2011 in Impacts, Projections, Climate, Extremes, Drought, Heat, Wildfires, States of Change, Global, United States, Texas  This article argues that the region is drying and getting hotter simply because the planet is getting hotter.  The implication is that Texas is getting drier and hotter.  

On Earth Blog.   Global Warming Amplifying Texas Drought and Wildfires By Alyson Kenward September 13, 2011 This article is often cited but not all that intellectual - it basically says that it was a record breaking year.  

The impact of global warming on Texas:  a report of the Task Force on Climate...  (Google Books) This important book, which one can purchase as well as previewing at Google Books, argues that prolonged devastating drought in Texas occurs in cycles.  The implication is that if we appear to be having a prolonged devastating drought, we probably are.   

"...summer drought can afflict any portion of the state.  In any warm season the regions to be affected are determined by the positioning of the subtropical ridge (high pressure) over the southern United States.

"At least some portion of Texas has suffered a serious drought in every decade of the twentieth century.   The most calamitous dry spell of the modern era was the extreme drought that tortured the whole state for most of the 1950's, breaking dramatically in 1957.   That drought is commonly regarded as the benchmark against which all other droughts in the state are compared.  The Dust Bowl drought, while more severe in areas of the Great Plains to the north of Texas, was nonetheless severe in most of Texas for several years during the 1930's."

 The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations By Brian Fagan.  Book.  Fagan thinks we are entering a 20 to 30 year long dry period in a long term Pacific oscillation.  

Assessing Climate Change in a Drought-Stricken State Kate Galbraith  New York Times  

The warming global climate is warming and drying Texas.  Meanwhile, the prolonged la nina pattern is similar to that which provoked the prolonged catastrophic drought of the 1950's - for four to a dozen years at a stretch.  Experts waffle on whether this means that drought could occur at the same level of severity for multiple years.     

Texas is vulnerable to warming climate  Texas is vulnerable to drying, heating, and flooding.   This is affecting Texans' electric bills - which is, after all, what most Texans notice first.    Dead lawns haven't yet hit the half of the middle class that blandly water them.  I had a supervisor at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where I worked as a temporary last summer, whose answer to the heat was, that is why I never go outside.   Most staff there really didn't get it with saving electricity to avoid rolling blackouts, which they saw as acts of God rather than something we can and should avoid - but I'm sure they noticed when they got the bills at home.   However the article calls for responsible government action to stop global warming.  

Droughts may lay waste to parts of the U.S.  Goldenberg.  The Guardian.  The world's pre-eminent climate scientists testify before the U.S. Senate on the consequences of global warming.  Among the consequences of global warming is that droughts could reduce the southwestern U.S. to a wasteland.  The media in Europe seem to have paid the most attention to what the world's pre-eminent climate scientists said to the U.S. Senate.   Actually, someone who has been traveling recently told me that in Europe, they can instantly recognize a Texas Republican by his or her strange environmental views.  We're becoming a joke the world over.  People are less disgusted by the behavior of people in China, even though the environmental damage there is more dramatic and a more immediate crisis, and China routinely exports toxic products around the globe.   Perhaps the rest of the world thinks that in the United States, people should know better, and maybe they're tired of how American retrogressive economic policies always put the U.S. at the bottom of rankings for the industrialized world on practically everything, not least of all our health.  Of the entire United States, Texas ranks near the bottom on practically everything, not least of all our health.  If I lived in Europe, I don't think I'd have enough patience to laugh, though when I lived in the northeastern U.S. we certainly thought that the near perfect proportion of right wing violence that originates in Texas was funny.   .   

The Future is Drying Up, Jon Gertner, Oct 12, 2007, New York Times.  You have to get halfway down before it gets past the Colorado River (in Colorado).  The U.S. southwest is among the parts of the earth particularly vulnerable to shortages of fresh water as the world warms.  There is also mention of the destructive effects of the medieval megadrought, specifically on the Colorado River (in Colorado).  

Going Green.   Drought Cripples the South: Why the 'Creeping Disaster' Could Get a Whole Lot Worse  This is the online version of this article: Parched Earth. By: Walsh, Bryan, HYLTON, HILARY, KRUEGER, ALYSON, Time, 8/22/2011, Vol. 178, Issue 7.

Worst Drought in Texas History Ravages Crops, Livestock.  NPR discussion of degree of Texas drought and its damage.  

Texas Scorched by Worst Drought in 50 Years  Tom Benning.  Wall Street Journal.  July 28, 2009.   Notice the date; they describe this year's conditions.  It probably is from 2009.    In 2009 crops outside of Austin were dead from lack of rain.   The accompanying map shows California almost as dry, but this year because of Arctic oscillation California has had normal rainfall.   There is a link to an article from 1959 about a plan to pipe water from California to Texas.   

Drought Tracker:  Richard Seager's work.  Union of Concerned Scientists.  Richard Seager has been tracking the spread of the world's deserts.  Here is his web site.   He presents invaluable, cutting edge data on climate change, particularly as regards the southwestern and southern United States.  He does have one fundamental flaw; he constantly denies that we really know what he finds, and then wonders why he's having trouble getting his message across.   He particularly seems to have trouble concluding that global warming is a product of human activity.   It must be said that now that global warming has gotten going, it is possible that people can do only so much to slow it down.   The earth's climate is highly dynamically unstable, and humans are simply the latest thing to tip it out of balance.   The last thing that means is that humans can't tip Earth's climate out of balance.  It's actually very easy to tip Earth's climate out of balance, and humans have definitely managed it.   We could end up just as extinct as if something else had tipped Earth's climate out of balance.   In real life small changes often have large effects down the line.   It often isn't easy to know exactly how things will end up down the line, though one can often make a good enough guess.   It is possible to predict it or atleast explain how it happened, but not by straight line logic.    This basic fact of real world life often renders the scientific method next to useless when it comes to real life.   Scientists often have trouble with dynamic complexity because it can't be plotted on regression equations.   

It is possible that confusion, religious agendas, et cetera about the meaning of the Texas drought with the question is what is causing global warming has gotten in the way of peoples' ability to respond appropriately to climate change in the Southwest.  Even Richard Seager often goes off on doubting what is causing climate change while making key points about needing to plan for water shortage in the southwest.

Even Richard Seager admits it's most immediately less important whether the southwestern drought is manmade, than to plan for it.   It would be helpful if he did less waffling on how long term the drought is likely to be.   The developments Richard Seager describes are a trend, and may not describe every year to the same degree.   What we can expect is for years like this to become worse and more frequent until at some point the region is desert.  In the video above, he clearly says that whatever is going on, the southwestern U.S. will never be as moist as it was in the 1990's when its population really grew.  Despite his continual dithering, Richard Seager consistently says that he is very concerned.  He believes that the climate of the subtropical latitudes is drying, and that this is an issue for our generation rather than something we need to fear for the distant future.   He thinks that this affects our agricultural crops and our use of water in the here and now.   He says that by the middle of this country average summers in the American south will be hotter and dryer than exceptional summers are now.   

 

CLIMATE CHANGE SOUTHWEST

SPREADING DESERTS caused by global warming and/or changes in upper air currents (man made or not)

First, explanations of the desert band that circles the globe at about 30 degrees of latitude, both north and south.   This band is the product of the permanent subtropical high pressure ridges at these latitudes - the high pressure ridge that heats up Austin and keeps rain away most summers.  They are formed by descending dry hot tropical air.  At the equator hot air goes up, spreading both north and south, and at a belt at about 30 degrees of latitude it comes down, sans moisture.   A corresponding hadley cell circulates air between the poles and the midlatitudes, in varying quantities.   Note that Austin, Texas is at exactly 30 degrees of north latitude.  Most of the world's deserts are in this band.  The northern subtropical ridges with their deserts are spreading northward, and the southern deserts are spreading southward.   There is also a very large body of literature on the effect of this on Australia.  The equatorial north-south oscillation (El Nino and La Nina) also moves the boundary between the subtropical ridges and whatever weather is in the midlatitudes; north for La Nina and south for El Nina.   One troublesome feature of the equatorial oscillation is that in addition to alternating years, it apparently alternates decades.    This can create decade (more or less) long better and worse blips on the long term picture of a drying climate in the southern United States.

subtropical ridge - Wikipedia   

horse latitudes - Wikipedia   

Hadley cells.   

Yahoo Answers: Why are most deserts found at approximately 30 degrees north and south latitude?

Report: Jet stream shift is expanding the Earth's tropics and deserts By Andrew Bridges, Associated Press Writer  USA Today.   Reports on the Science article below.   Satellite measurements from 1979 to 2005 show that heating of the Tropics has caused them to bulge outward and expand by 140 miles. This in turn has pushed the relatively dry subtropical region 70 miles in each direction.   This pushes the deserts and dry areas of that belt poleward.   Illustration of the effect of desert spread in northern China (where overuse is also contributing).   There has always been dry land in Mongolia, but, on the other hand, here is a photo of the reservoir that serves the city of Beijing.  All of the new farmland under the giant pier used to be under water, which presumably came up to the level of the pier.

 

 Fu, Quiang et al.   Enhanced mid-latitude tropospheric warming in satellite measurements.  Science, 5/26/2006.   Article summarized in USA Today article above.  

Climatologist Warns Of Second Dust Bowl In Growing Southwest Desert, Gus Lubin | Aug. 13, 2010   Business Insider

Climate Change and Ecosystems of the Southwestern United States

An imminent transition to a more arid climate in southwestern North America Richard Seager  The expanding subtropical high pressure ridges are moving poleward, causing the desert regions they contain to move poleward as well.  Some of this is caused by repeated la nina weather patterns.  However general climate warming is also causing the subtropical high pressure ridges to strengthen and move northward, as well as contributing to the repeated la nina pattern.   The region is extremely vulnerable to long lasting megadrought caused by repeated la nina patterns.

It's not drought, it's climate change, say scientists Melissa Fyfe  August 30, 2009.  The Age (Australia)  Problems are not confined to the northern subtropical zone.  "80 per cent of the rain loss in south-east Australia can be attributed to the intensification of the subtropical ridge"   (One thing southern Australia is doing about this is switching to growing barley, which both drought resistant and salt resistant.)

PACIFIC DECADAL OSCILLATION

Pacific Decadal Oscillation - Wikipedia.   Explains the decadal la nina thing.   See also section on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation below.   

Combined effect of PDO and La Nina.

La Nina can weaken, but cold air is still off of the northern Pacific coast.

When La Nina is in efect its effect is strengthened.

La Nina finds it hard to go away.  It is hard for the Pacific coast to warm up.

New York Times Magazine.  Overview of Climate Change Impacts and Imlications for the U.S. West.   Bradley Udall.   October 21, 2007.   Reads as a slide show.   Some parts are easy to understand and some not.  Contains a good explanation of the expanding desert band, in both the northern and southern hemispheres, with maps..  Also a lot of information on global warming.  Much of the early part pertains to the far west and Colorado.   Presented at USCID Conference in September 2008.   

 

DECADAL ARCTIC (N ATLANTIC) AND PACIFIC OSCILLATION IN SOUTHWESTERN DROUGHT CYCLE

These articles discuss the Arctic oscillation, the multidecadal Arctic oscillation (Atlantic), and tie it together with the Pacific decadal oscillation and with global warming.   

- shows that the Southwest is having a drought cycle.  Decadal oscillation pattern is similar to that described as having caused previous droughts in 1930's, 1950's, and medieval megadrought.  One important effect is that the jet streams that bring rain have shifted north - from La Nina, as distinct from expansion of the subtropical ridge.   During El Nino they shift south, but the region is in a decadal la nina cycle.   

Climate change blamed for record Mississippi floods  La nina has moved the rain north.   In the winter, the arctic oscillation-induced flow of cold air south caused more snow.  The melting snowpack contributed to flooding.   Meanwhile the Gulf was two degrees warmer than usual when the storms occurred, and the warmer air over it could hold more moisture.

Why cold, wet weather in Orlando? Blame Arctic Oscillation  February 01, 2011|By Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel  Usually in a La Nina winter, Orlando, Florida is parched.   Instead it got inundated with rain.   The reason is the Arctic Oscillation.   The record cold killed large numbers of manatees.   

Climate Change Evident in Winter Storms  In addition to the Arctic oscillation, climate change is increasing spring flooding by causing spring to begin earlier.  

Global warming blamed for heavy snowstorms, record floods

Weird CA weather linked to arctic oscillation, global warming.  Positive AO is when cold air is bottled up in the arctic, and negative AO is when it comes south.    California got a lot of rain because the negative AO caused cold air to push south.   Normally during la nina the jet stream would sweep north of California keeping rain away, but this year cold arctic air plunging out of the Arctic caused air to descend directly into California.   It never actually got as far south as central Texas, and it swung slightly back to the north.   One effect was that Greenland distinctly warmed up.   

Arctic Oscillation -  Wikipedia article explains what it is.

Graphic of monthly arctic oscillation.  Note:  The Arctic oscillation can vary a lot from day to day.

North Atlantic Oscillation.  Closely tied to the Arctic Oscillation but not the same thing.

Arctic Oscillation - National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center collection of data.

Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation - not to be confused with either of the above.   The current warm phase, which began in the mid 1990's, may peak in 2020.   Cycles may be 20, 70 or 80 years long.   The climate swings of the AMO may camouflage and exaggerate the effects of global warming.   

Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis - National Snow and Ice Data Center.  sometimes discusses the arctic oscillation.  Gives current state of arctic sea ice in any month and discusses immediate climactic impacts further south.

Frequently asked questions about the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)

Influence of the summer oscillation on central United States summer rainfall.  The actual paper that goes with the above abstract.  The positive (warm Atlantic) phase of the Arctic Oscillation disrupts the flow of air over the central United States and causes summer rain events to tend to go to the north.  This article is pretty technical.   Positive phase of arctic oscillation keeps rain away from central U.S.   Positive AO: cold air stays bottled up in north.  northern jet shifts north.   Negative AO cold air comes south and midlatitude trough.    

* Latest El Nino / La Nina News *  1/13/11: Late 2010-2011 La Nina One of Strongest on Record -    

U.S. had most extreme weather on record for precipitation  "During a La Niña episode in the Eastern Pacific, when the equatorial waters cool to several degrees below average, abnormally dry winter weather usually occurs in the southern U.S., and abnormally wet weather in the Midwest. This occurs because La Niña alters the path of the jet stream, making the predominant storm track in winter traverse the Midwest and avoid the South. Cold, Canadian air stays north of the jet stream, and warm subtropical air lies to the south of the jet, bringing drought to the southern tier of states. La Niña’s influence on the jet stream and U.S. weather typically fades in springtime, with precipitation patterns returning closer to normal. However, in 2011, the La Niña influence on U.S. weather stayed strong throughout spring. The jet stream remained farther south than usual over the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, and blew more strongly, with wind speeds more typical of winter than spring. The positioning of the jet stream brought a much colder than average spring to the Pacific Northwest, with Washington and Oregon recording top-five coldest springs. Spring was not as cold in the Midwest, because a series of strong storms moved along the jet stream and pulled up warm, moist Gulf of Mexico air, which mixed with the cold air spilling south from Canada. The air flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico was much warmer than usual, because weaker winds than average blew over the Gulf of Mexico during February and March. This reduced the amount of mixing of cold ocean waters from the depths, and allowed the surface waters to heat up. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico warmed to 1°C (1.8°F) above average during April–the third warmest temperatures in over a century of record keeping (SST anomalies were a bit cooler in May, about 0.4°C above average, due to stronger winds over the Gulf.) These unusually warm surface waters allowed much more moisture than usual to evaporate into the air, resulting in unprecedented rains over the Midwest when the warm, moist air swirled into the unusually cold air spilling southwards from Canada. With the jet stream at exceptional winter-like strengths, the stage was also set for massive tornado outbreaks."

"A La Niña-like positioning of the jet stream, more typical of winter than spring, brought much colder air than normal to the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest during the spring of 2011. Washington and Oregon had top-five coldest springs, and near-record snowfalls and snow packs were recorded in portions of the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains. South of the mean position of the jet stream, top-ten warmest springs were recorded in Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. "

Was the Dust Bowl Predictable?   Richard Seager tries to explain the Dust Bowl.   He attempts to tie it to Atlantic and Pacific oscillations and particularly to surface sea temperatures (SST's).    He wrote me privately that he thinks that warm subtropical North Atlantic was a cause of this year's drought in Texas.  He thinks that a similar development with a La Nina was atleast partly behind the Dust Bowl, but has trouble locating droughts those things would cause to the location hardest hit by the Dust Bowl.   A warm subtropical North Atlantic can cause drought in Texas and the southern plains by causing rain to tend to fall over the ocean and gulf instead of on land.   A cooler subtropical Atlantic would tend to lead to rain over land.   I am having trouble, however, determining what caused the subtropical Atlantic to fluctuate, other than global warming.   So far noone is explaining what causes that.   Atlantic oscillation is strongly related to Arctic oscillation, but all I can find on that is that last winter it caused excessive cold and rain to fall in the central U.S., and during the summer it may have contributed to cool weather and rainfall in California.   I cannot learn what phase it has been in since spring.   If it is helping to propel the midwestern rain, it should also have cooled off the subtropical Atlantic.   

Climate Abyss:  The drought of record was made to be broken.   Houston Chronicle blog.  This article from a year ago discusses an expected severe impact of persisting La Nina beyond spring of 2011 on water supplies and plant life.   It also discusses the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which may be responsible for periods of warming of the subtropical North Atlantic.   Such a period is partly behind the Texas drought.   The subtropical north Atlantic was in a warm phase in the 40's and 50's and since 1995, and in a cool phase in the 70's and 80's.  These periods correlate with rainfall over the U.S., and amplifies the pattern of ENSO.   Overall, periods of drought in the U.S. are strongly related to Pacific decadal oscillation (decadal variation in ENSO), to the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, and to long term ocean warming.  

"With the Tropics apparently being key, Wang et al. (2006) performed a similar study as Enfield et al. (2001), but focused on the so-called Atlantic Warm Pool, the area of warm Atlantic temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the adjacent tropical Atlantic.  They observed that warmer temperatures in the warm pool area were correlated with reduced precipitation in the southern Plains from May through October.  A followup modeling study (Wang et al. 2008) showed how it worked: the warm temperatures produced more thunderstorms and lower sea level pressures over the ocean.  This reduced the pressure gradient driving the influx of moisture into the central United States through Texas.  Kushnir et al. (2010) focused on the vertical motions associated with the warm Atlantic and concluded that stabilization and subsidence adjacent to the Atlantic was the culprit for reduced Texas precipitation."  A particularly dangerous pattern, in terms of risk of drought for the central United States, is when warm SST's are concentrated between Greenland and Great Britain.   This pattern differs from the AMO.  It was positive in 1909-1912, 1917-1918, and 1925.  AMO has been "positive" since 2000 but the secondary pattern picked up steam since 2005.   

Pacific and Atlantic Ocean influences on multidecadal drought frequency in the United States.   McCabe et al.   PNAS.  AMO is probably caused by changes in the hyaline circulation.   

 

PACIFIC DECADAL OSCILLATION

What's to blame for wild weather?  "La Nada".  This author quotes NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, as saying that La Nina, which was never very strong and was supplanted in part of 2010 by El Nino, petered out completely in January, to be replaced by La Nada.   Noone agrees with him.   Looking at the graphics of the Pacific surface sea temperatures at    make it clear that La Nina was consistently there for all of 2010, and has consistently been there for all of 2011.   I don't see where it went away for a period this summer.   The surface water off the Pacific coast of both hemispheres has consistently been cold.  The water off the coast of the northern hemisphere has consistently been very cold.   The warm surface water is all on the western side of the Pacific, clearly blown there by strong trade winds.   

Below you can see that actually the excessive spring rainstorms fell in the exact same narrow little spot they always fall during La Nina.   

However, here is the explanation given of the spring rainstorms.     

""By mid-January 2011, La Niña weakened rapidly and by mid-February it was 'adios La Niña,' allowing the jet stream to meander wildly around the US. Consequently the weather pattern became dominated by strong outbreaks of frigid polar air, producing blizzards across the West, Upper Midwest, and northeast US."1

"The situation lingered into spring -- and things got ugly. Russell Schneider, Director of the NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center, explains:

"First, very strong winds out of the south carrying warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico met cold jet stream winds racing in from the west. Stacking these two air masses on top of each other created the degree of instability that fuels intense thunderstorms."

"Extreme contrasts in wind speeds and directions of the upper and lower atmosphere transformed ordinary thunderstorms into long-lived rotating supercells capable of producing violent tornadoes.2

In Patzert's words, "The jet stream -- on steroids -- acted as an atmospheric mix master, causing tornadoes to explode across Dixie and Tornado Alleys, and even into Massachusetts."

It takes reading this closely to realize that two separate and possibly independent claims are made here, possibly by two different people.   Patzert says that outbreaks of frigid polar air caused blizzards after El Nino allegedly died in mid January.   The arctic oscillation was still in a strong negative phase at this time, but by February it was very cold.  Then Schneider said that cold jet stream winds brought cold air from the west.   He never explains why the air west of the midwest should have been cold.   He also never explains why there were particularly strong winds out of the gulf.   The only thing I know of going on was that the Pacific decadal oscillation pushed cold air into California, and probably the eastern Pacific.  But Schneider never explains.

Suppose that cold air did blow from the west?   The Pacific Decadal Oscillation would tend to bring it southward from the west, along the Pacific coast.   La Nina may tend to bring it from Alaska into the midwest, from the northwest, and not from the west.   Like the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, the pacific decadal oscillation is not well understood, and its period may be ten years, or thirty.   

The following article from above makes more sense out of the jet stream that carried strong winds and cold air.

U.S. had most extreme weather on record for precipitation  "During a La Niña episode in the Eastern Pacific, when the equatorial waters cool to several degrees below average, abnormally dry winter weather usually occurs in the southern U.S., and abnormally wet weather in the Midwest. This occurs because La Niña alters the path of the jet stream, making the predominant storm track in winter traverse the Midwest and avoid the South. Cold, Canadian air stays north of the jet stream, and warm subtropical air lies to the south of the jet, bringing drought to the southern tier of states. La Niña’s influence on the jet stream and U.S. weather typically fades in springtime, with precipitation patterns returning closer to normal. However, in 2011, the La Niña influence on U.S. weather stayed strong throughout spring. The jet stream remained farther south than usual over the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, and blew more strongly, with wind speeds more typical of winter than spring. The positioning of the jet stream brought a much colder than average spring to the Pacific Northwest, with Washington and Oregon recording top-five coldest springs. Spring was not as cold in the Midwest, because a series of strong storms moved along the jet stream and pulled up warm, moist Gulf of Mexico air, which mixed with the cold air spilling south from Canada. The air flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico was much warmer than usual, because weaker winds than average blew over the Gulf of Mexico during February and March. This reduced the amount of mixing of cold ocean waters from the depths, and allowed the surface waters to heat up. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico warmed to 1°C (1.8°F) above average during April–the third warmest temperatures in over a century of record keeping (SST anomalies were a bit cooler in May, about 0.4°C above average, due to stronger winds over the Gulf.) These unusually warm surface waters allowed much more moisture than usual to evaporate into the air, resulting in unprecedented rains over the Midwest when the warm, moist air swirled into the unusually cold air spilling southwards from Canada. With the jet stream at exceptional winter-like strengths, the stage was also set for massive tornado outbreaks."

"A La Niña-like positioning of the jet stream, more typical of winter than spring, brought much colder air than normal to the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest during the spring of 2011. Washington and Oregon had top-five coldest springs, and near-record snowfalls and snow packs were recorded in portions of the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains. South of the mean position of the jet stream, top-ten warmest springs were recorded in Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. "

From this diagram, the La Nina jet stream and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which also caused cold air to flow south out of Alaska into California, reinforce each other.  See where the wet typically occurs.

This graphic shows the effects of both La Nina and the PDO.   Like most graphics of Pacific SST's during a negative PDO, it looks as though if the PDO is longer lasting it will tend to keep warm water away from the eastern side of the Pacific, tending to perpetuate La Nina conditions.  

What is the Pacific decadal oscillation?  National Weather Service page for Flagstaff Arizona.   Understand that these weather patterns have far different effects on Arizona than on any other place in the country.   

Pacific Decadal Oscillation.  NOAA.

The Pacific decadal oscillation: Key to the global warming debate?   Those opposed to believing in man made climate change are grabbing onto anything, and the Pacific decadal oscillation is one of them.   There are some recent coincidences of timing with climate changes in North America.   This web site argues that the last warm phase also resulted in temperature rise in the Arctic, melting of sea ice, and the opening of the northwest passage for shipping.   I wonder why noone has heard that until now, if it is true.   The beginning of the last warm phase was 1976, the first time it got truly warm.   A new positive phase may have started very recently.   The PDO can shape climate over North America by altering the jet streams, in a manner similar to ENSO but evidently longer and more pronounced.   

If only the effects of shifts in the PDO included reversal of the expansion in the subtropical high pressure ridge that is claiming rainfall in Texas.

California climate:: Pacific Ocean Connection.   Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.  The PDO is characterized by cool or warm phase shifts in North Pacific sea surface temperatures which commonly persist for 20-30 years. In the cool or negative phase, east Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are below normal. For the positive or warm phase, east Pacific SSTs are above normal. Cool or negative PDO phases occurred from 1890-1924 and from 1947-1976. Warm or positive phases typified the periods from 1925-1946 and from 1977 through the mid-1990's.  California's climate tends to shift with the PDO, but one effect may be to dry southern California.  

Researcher says climate change may be cooling California

Warm subtropical north Atlantic - affects flow of moisture and storms from the Gulf to the plains.  If North Atlantic is anomalously warm at the surface, storms tend to form over the ocean or the gulf instead of over the southern plains.  

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a wrinkle associated with the Arctic Oscillation that affects Alaska, may be what is responsible for cool weather in California.   

Variations in the Pacific decadal oscillation over the past millennium.  Glen MacDonald.  Geophysical Research Letters.  Vol 32.  2005.   The PDO modulates the effects of ENSO on the North American continent, and is weaker than ENSO.   Over the past millennium it has at times disappeared.  The length of its cycle may be 50 or 70 years (as distinct from 20 or 30).   A prolonged depression in the PDO correlates with the Medieval Megadrought between AD 900 and AD 1300.   By that, he means a prolonged and pronounced negative state between AD 993 and AD 1300.   There were generally positive values between AD 1450 and AD 1550, and generally negative values between AD 1600 and AD 1800.  A negative state is a cool northeastern Pacific - in other words, a cool phase.   A prolonged episode of negative PDO leads to a period of severe and prolonged dry conditions throughout western and central North America.  The cycle may shift between decadal and multidecadal over time.   Over the past 200 years the multidecadal variability typical of the PDO has not been stable.  

Western Fires Linked to Atlantic Temps   Jeff Barnard, Associated Press   Examines relationship between southwestern wildfire cycles, and complex interaction between short and long term Atlantic (arctic) and pacific oscillation.  Arctic/ North Atlantic oscillation involves warming subtropical water as well as changes in the jet stream around the arctic.  Warming subtropical water causes storms to tend to form over the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico instead of over Texas and the southern plains.  

Qi Hu, Song Feng, and Robert J. Oglesby.   Variations in North American Summer Precipitation Driven by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation   Journal of Climate 2011 ; e-View  doi: 10.1175/2011JCLI4060.1   What this highly technical abstract says that when the North Atlantic surface temperatures are in their cold phase, rain is forced into the southern great plains (and Texas).    When the North Atlantic surface temperatures are in their warm phase, nothing much happens, and the Atlantic subtropical ridge is weakened, allowing hot air to collect over the continental U.S.   Consistent with that idea is the near absence of the Bermuda High in the summer of 2011, which allowed hurricanes to turn northward up the Atlantic coast.   Usually the Bermuda High blocks them from going north that soon, forcing them to hit Florida or enter the Gulf.   This is subtly different from the idea that warm north Atlantic surface temperatures cause rain to fall over the ocean and the Gulf instead of on land.

 

THE TRUE EXPLANATION FOR SPRING 2011 MIDWESTERN FLOODING

From the media one gets the idea that last spring's midwestern flooding was caused in part by the Arctic Oscillation, though specific analyses repeatedly seem to blame mostly La Nina.  This made no sense to me until I looked further into it.

Climate:  Monthly overview of world weather (from some other country's climactic data) has graphics on pressure, precipitation and temperature anomalies by hemisphere, by the month, from the present backward in time.

The above would lead one to believe that there wasn't really heavy rains in the midwest late in the spring or early in the summer.  Further if there were it had nothing to do with the Arctic Oscillation which was weaker to positive during this time and the graphics show no relationship to the lack of any sort of anomalous midwestern weather.  In fact, in May there pretty much wasn't an Arctic Oscillation, but there was certainly excess rain in parts of the U.S.

These maps are from March to June, 2011, which was the timing of this spring's excessive rain events.  Notice that June's small area of midwestern excessive rain is shown further north than that for the earlier three months.  

So I checked.  It turns out there was a heavy rainstorm version of a normal La Nina spring in the midwest, coupled with melting snowpack from the Arctic Oscillation induced storms earlier in the winter.  

Climate Central:  Heavy Midwestern Rains Lead to Mississippi Floods  May 4, 2011.   Blames steady increase in amount of precipitation received in that section at one time over several decades, on global warming.   They say it isn't raining more often but more rain is falling at one time.   They also blame May's flooding on melting snowpack upriver, specifically on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.   It's hard to believe that in May up there snow is still melting.  I haven't seen snow on the ground in May since I was a child, but I lived up there as recently as 1999.

Corn Crops Damaged by Heavy Rain  and, Floods make half of Iowa's counties disaster areas.   NPR, June 13, 2011.   It was still going on.   Excessive rain, and flooding.  Corn futures hit another record on midwestern rain.   USA Today, June 9, 2011  Eight inches of rain dumped on parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana.   

Damaging winds, heavy rain pound midwest, move into Southeast.  CNN, February 28, 2011.   In February, 2011, the arctic oscillation was positive.  Precipitation map for that month doesn't show a whole lot going on.  But clearly it was.  

This article sheds some light on the mystery.  It contains a graphic of where the excess rain fell.   April showers bring midwest floods.   Our amazing planet.  April 27, 2011.   The graphic shows that the excessive rain in April actually hit a small area that contained parts of four states.   It isn't the same region that was hit by the storms in June.  In April it was evidently Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and western Arkansas that were being hit.   The global precipitation map do show a very small area that size in that location receiving excessive precipitation.   The area is described in the text as the Ohio and (lower) Mississippi river valleys.   I wondered about the Ohio Valley when it was a major factor in determining the weather in Buffalo, NY, where I lived at the time.  

Honest, now, the two maps below are not from the same year.  I double checked.  It just selectively rained in exactly the same locations, selectively avoiding the Mississippi River.   Only when there's la nina.   

The Ohio River valley is a meteorological construct with no geographical existence, that sort of corresponds to the western side of the Appalachian Mountains.  It is a place where storms tend to get caught and turned to the north.  More than one sort of weather could conceivably get caught there.   The term apparently originated in the imaginations of western settlers of the colonial era.   

A similar problem occurred nearby in the spring of 2008.   Deadly rains in the U.S. Midwest.  Earthwatch.   March 21, 2008.   This was blamed on La Nina shifting rainfall patterns, and the strong westerly wind pulling up moisture from the Gulf.   This, too, was a narrow band of excessive rainfall.

  

 

GROWING RICE 

Caption from New York Times:  The Colorado River waters (floods) rice fields like this one near Bay City and is fed by lakes upriver near Austin

Here's more specific information on the LCRA and rice farming on the lower Colorado River.    .  Notice that while Mike Mecke of the LCRA is stating publicly that there would be plenty of water to go around if the city of Austin if people in Austin just stopped using water for the only purpose we use it for, which is watering lawns, the LCRA's efforts regarding rice farmers are entirely confined to leveling fields so that less water is needed to unnecessarily flood them.  

Wikipedia article on how to actually grow rice    

According to the Wikipedia article: 

1.  Young rice does not require flooded fields to grow.  The purpose of flooded fields is to control weeds and pests and to fertilize the crop.   What is more, rice can easily grow on mountains and on hillsides.

2.  Rice fields can be irrigated instead of flooded.

3.  There are drought resistant varieties of rice.  

4.  "In many countries where rice is the main cereal crop, rice cultivation is responsible for most of the methane emissions."  Specifically, when rice is flooded, oxygen can't penetrate the soil, and soil anaerobes make methane.  The longer the rice is flooded, the more methane.  This is part of the process that is intended to kill all life in the field except the rice.  

Flooded fields have never been needed to grow rice, but rather is a primitive method of pest and weed control and fertilization; and there are drought resistant varieties of rice.   This means that rice farmers on the lower Colorado River are clinging rigidly to unnecessary and outmoded technology that wastes large quantities of the region's water. What is more, local officials are focused on helping them continue doing that.  LCRA officials have a program to help rice farmers level their fields so that less water is required to flood them.   Not, LCRA officials are trying to get rice farmers to grow sustainable strains of rice by sustainable methods.     

If the U.S. did lose 7% of its rice supply, Americans would be in grave danger of improved health.  Rice is extremely high glycemic index, and white rice, the only form most Americans will eat, is low in nutritional value.   A healthy serving of rice is only 1/3 of a cup, as compared with 1/2 cup of most other starchy foods, and nobody not on a rigid diet eats that little.  Most careful diabetics, the only people who would eat a third of a cup of rice, won't eat rice because of its outrageous effect on blood sugar.  The ancestors of most Americans ate barley, rye and oats, and a little wheat, and had no access to rice.  American Indians ate corn and had no access to rice, if they grew grain.  When I began substituting barley for rice and other dinner time starches, my prediabetic fasting blood sugar dropped ten points.  Barley is much better for you; it not only is low glycemic index, but causes the gut to make a hormone that both controls appetite and is needed by the pancreas to make insulin.  Many people with type 2 diabetes have genetically impaired ability to make and process that hormone, resulting in a need to make large quantities of it.  Hulled barley is also far more digestible than brown rice, and more nutritious and far higher in fiber than white rice. Barley can be used instead of rice and pasta for most purposes.  

According to Wikipedia, the growth of rice in this country in all areas except California, especially east Texas, was a byproduct of slavery, and mimicked tropical food production and dietary patterns elsewhere where there were alot of Africans, which is also how they came to farm fish.  A map shows the distribution of rice growing in this country as truly weird; mostly along the Mississippi River, in areas particularly prone to crop wipeout from flooding; followed by four counties of coastal Texas, and a several-county area in northern California (where it was started by Chinese laborers of the gold rush). Evidently rice isn't currently grown on the east coast of the U.S.   

Rice farmers on the Colorado River could grow drought resistant rice on nonflooded fields if they wanted to.  If they feel that they can't, then they need to switch to growing more sustainable crops.

African Rice - rice as a crop was carried to Africa from southeastern Asia, very early during the Neolithic, and has evolved into a large number of strains that can be grown under a large variety of conditions, from "floating rice" to rice that will grow in harsh environments. One strain of rice is fast growing and particularly useful in places where rain falls but not always in schedule.  African rice lacks several important traits that are important in commercial rice, which is Indian rice.  However, this highly variant African-adapted kind of rice is one of the avenues of approach to developing drought resistant commercial rice.  

 Scientists working on strains of drought resistant rice.

New genetically engineered strain of rice that can resist both drought and salt, and also recover from damage by insects.  

Super-resistant rice plant technology. The gene evidently was taken from barley.  Not, simply grow barley instead of rice.  

This article reports on a new Indian strain of rice that can go without ran for twelve days instead of five days.  That wouldn't save rice in a dry region.

Drought resistant gene toxic - This guy thinks it would be a better idea to stop growing rice.  Controlled testing of the new strain of rice would soon determine if the rice is toxic.  Evidently the same gene isn't toxic in barley - unless eating barley causes kidney failure.  Whoops.  

Drought resistance of New Rice For Africa  Using a different approach, scientists report on the cross of one drought resistant strain of African rice with Indian rice (the kind we commonly eat). "Some NERICA lines showed high growth with low uptake of water and seemed to be appropriate for long periods of cultivation in drought condition."

Waterless Rice?   This article discusses the need for rice that consumes less water in light of the southeastern drought, and drought and famine in eastern India.  Water needed by growing rice uses far too much water that is needed by people, under conditions of little water.  This problem can be expected to get worse in the future.  The article discusses the HARDY gene - the gene taken from barley and used to make a strain of rice that is resistant to drought, salt, and insect damage.  Other genetically modified strains of rice are under development.  Other scientists think sustainable farming technique and planting other crops that use less water, which evidently is almost anything but rice, are better options.   

Barley will grow in warm regions of the world in the winter and has a short growing season, and is relatively drought tolerant, as well as salt tolerant.  This may all be why it was grown in Mesopotamia in historical times.   It may soon be sown in Australia for these reasons.   People in Asia like to roast it and make tea from it.  A major use for it is to make beer.   It is nutritious, rich in a starch that causes the gut to make proglucagon peptide I, of very low hypoglycemic index, and possibly calming for inflamed bowels.  It is certainly relatively digestible among the whole grains.  Barley is expected to become more important as animal feed and for making ingredients in human food in the future.   Barley played prominent roles in the history of the Middle East and Near East.  It was domesticated there at the same time as the ancestors of wheat.  It also grows wild in north Africa.  

  And finally, To get water to cities, California farmers paid not to plant.   New York Times.  October 23, 2011.   Farmers became able to grow crops in southern California's imperial valley when water was diverted from the Colorado River in 1901.  But now California cities can no longer spare the water.   Farmers are being paid by the acre not to grow crops.