About that 2013 Dust Bowl…

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The summer has started dry and dusty for many areas west of the Missouri River, and with government forecasters expecting it to continue through the end of the summer, could there be another Dust Bowl brewing?

A study out of the journal Aeolian Research suggests that the American West could be facing the return of the Dust Bowl. National Geographic reports in an article here that drought and high winds are causing more dust storms than usual, but researchers also blame off-road vehicle use, oil and gas development, grazing and urban and rural development.

In the study, a team of researchers calculated the “amount of dust blowing across the United States by estimating the amount of calcium-containing dust particles colliding with water droplets in the atmosphere.” When they collide, more rain falls and more calcium is deposited on the ground.

Researchers found during the 17-year study period that these deposits increased throughout the West. One of the impacts related to having more dust in the air: dust storms.

Weather.com’s Digital Meteorologist Nick Wiltgen also looked into the possibility of the return of the Dust Bowl, further noting that “under the right circumstances, say the Ogallala Aquifer gets overdrawn or climate change reduces snowmelt for the Platte and Arkansas rivers and farming halts in the High Plains, it could happen.”

However, Wiltgen points that it would be on a smaller scale than the 1930s.

“Considering the Dust Bowl was a combination of human action with natural conditions, I think it will be a long time before we see another one,” Wiltgen reassures. “It would take a fairly dramatic shift in the way land is managed in this country—or an extraordinarily severe and prolonged drought.”

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