The problem with drought rhetoric

The Carlsbad Current-Argus yesterday morning had a story saying this:

Officials at the National Weather Service in Midland, Texas, say their weather data shows the drought in Eddy County and the surrounding region is on par with the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Eddy County has not had any measurable rain since Sept. 25, and according to David Henning, National Weather Service meteorologist, there is no rain in sight for southeastern New Mexico and the neighboring Texas communities.


No, no, no.

SE NM Climate Division, precip, Oct. - March

SE NM Climate Division, precip, Oct. - March, courtesy WRCC

As you can see from the accompanying graph (click to see it larger) of the SE New Mexico climate division Oct. – March precip, they’ve had a very, very bad year down there. But it’s been one bad year.

The Dust Bowl (and the drought of the 1950s, which is less famous ’cause it has a less cool name, but was worse in this part of the country) were decadal-scale events. From 1933 to 1940, precip for this part of the year was mostly well below average, and barely got above it. From 1950 to 1957, same thing, only worse.

Comparing this year’s single bad year to the Dust Bowl (or the drought of the ’50s) is inappropriate.

(Time history plot toy, very useful for this kind of blog science, available from the Western Regional Climate Center.)


  1. Climatology-wise, I would think you’d want to be looking at the whole region. The NM port taken by itself is going to be misleading almost by definition.

    An underlying question here is the manner in which the drought pattern associated with the northward movement of the subtropics (recognizing that attribution of current conditions to this is probably impossible for the moment) should differ from the historical droughts you mention.

  2. Pingback: Dust Bowl Rhetoric Watch : jfleck at inkstain

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