History Podcasts

Severe Drought, Hundreds Parish - History

Severe Drought, Hundreds Parish - History

A seven-year drought in sub-Saharan Africa brought starvation to 100,000 people in the countries of Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

History of Braidwood, New South Wales

The history of Braidwood, New South Wales in Australia dates back to the early nineteenth century. The historic nature of the town has been recognised with the listing of the entire town on the former Register of the National Estate on 21 October 1980 and the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 3 April 2006. [1]

Severe droughts explain the mysterious fall of the Maya

When European conquistadores sailed for Central America in the early 1500s, they were looking for untold wealth - and woe betide any native people who stood in their way. But in some places, the colonists found that there was hardly anyone to resist them. The once-thriving Maya civilisation had long since collapsed.

By the time the Europeans made landfall, the Maya&rsquos political and economic powerhouse has vanished

The Maya&rsquos towering limestone cities &ndash a classic feature of one of the ancient world&rsquos most advanced societies &ndash were already being reclaimed by the jungle.

The question of how the Maya met their end is one of history's most enduring mysteries. The Maya people survived they even managed to stage a long resistance to European rule. But by the time the Europeans made landfall, the political and economic power which had erected the region's iconic pyramids, and had at one time sustained a population of some two million people, had vanished.

The first Maya sites were built during the first millennium BC, and the civilisation reached its height around AD600. (In the chronology of Mesoamerica, the Maya sit between the earlier Olmec and later Aztec civilisations). Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of ancient Maya cities, most of which are spread across southern Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Belize and Guatemala.

It&rsquos likely that still more Maya ruins lie hidden beneath the region&rsquos thick tropical forest.

The Maya had a strong grasp of mathematics and astronomy and used the only known written script in Mesoamerica

After about 200 years of serious archaeological study, we know enough about the Maya to be suitably impressed. Their distinctive art and architecture prove that these were master craftspeople.

The Maya were also intellectually advanced. They had a strong grasp of mathematics and astronomy, which they used to align their pyramids and temples with the precession of planets and the solar equinoxes. And they used the only known written script in Mesoamerica, a bizarre-looking set of characters known as Maya hieroglyphs.

The marvels the Maya left behind have earned them an enduring mystique. But the way the civilisation met its end is every bit as curious.

Let&rsquos start with what we know. Around AD850, after centuries of prosperity and dominance, the Maya began to abandon their great cities, one after another. In less than 200 years, the civilisation had slumped to a fraction of its former glory. There would be later isolated resurgences, but the grandeur of the Maya&rsquos heyday was gone forever.

Apart from its dramatic scale, what makes the Maya collapse so striking is that, despite decades of study, archaeologists still cannot agree on what caused it. As with the Roman Empire, there probably wasn&rsquot one single culprit for the Maya&rsquos downfall. But the nature of their decline leads some researchers to believe that the Maya civilisation fell victim to a major catastrophe &ndash one able to topple city after city in its wake.

There are abundant theories about what finished off the Maya. There are the old favourites &ndash invasion, civil war, collapsing trade routes &ndash but ever since the first Central American ancient climate records were pieced together in the early 1990s, one theory has become particularly popular: that the Maya civilisation was ultimately doomed by a period of severe climate change.

In the centuries immediately before the Maya collapse &ndash the so-called &ldquoClassical Age&rdquo between about AD250 and 800 &ndash the civilisation boomed. Cities flourished and harvests were good. Climate records (which mostly come from the analysis of cave formations) show that during this time the Maya area had received relatively high rainfall. But the same records show that, starting in about AD820, the region was ravaged by 95 years of punctuated droughts, some of which lasted for decades.

Most of the Classic Maya cities fell between AD850 and 925 &ndash largely coincident with a century of drought

Ever since these droughts were first identified, researchers have noticed a striking correlation between their timing and that of the Maya collapse: most of the Classic Maya cities fell between AD850 and 925 &ndash largely coincident with the century of drought. And while a simple correlation isn&rsquot enough to close the case, the tight fit between the droughts and the downfall leads many experts to believe that the 9th Century climate shift might somehow have caused the Maya&rsquos demise.

But attractive as the drought explanation is, one piece of evidence has been standing in its way. Because, while most Maya cities declined as the climate dried, not all did.

This northern resurgence flies against the drought theory of the Maya&rsquos demise

The Maya cities which fell during the 9th Century droughts were mostly located in the southern portion of their territory, in modern day Guatemala and Belize. In the Yucatan peninsula to the north, however, the Maya civilisation not only survived through these droughts, it then began to flourish.

While the southern Maya civilisation began to disintegrate, the north enjoyed relative prosperity, with the rise of a number of thriving urban centres. These included one of the greatest of all Maya cities, Chichen Itza (one of the world&rsquos &ldquoNew Seven Wonders&rdquo). This northern resurgence flies against the drought theory of the Maya&rsquos demise: if the south was permanently crippled by the climate shift, critics argue, then why wasn&rsquot the north?

Researchers have proposed various explanations for this north-south discrepancy, but so far no one theory has won out. Recently, however, a new discovery has gone some way towards resolving this enduring paradox.

Maya archaeologists find dating difficult. Almost none of the Maya&rsquos written records, which once numbered in the thousands, survived past colonial times (on the order of Catholic priests, the Spanish burned Maya books wholesale - only four are now known to exist). Instead, to determine the times that ancient Maya cities thrived, researchers rely on calendar inscriptions on stone monuments, stylistic analysis of the Maya&rsquos ornate ceramics, and radiocarbon dates from organic materials.

Evidently the north didn&rsquot come through these droughts unscathed after all

Earlier studies had already determined the approximate ages of the main urban centres in the northern Maya civilisation it was these that had revealed that the north had endured the 9th Century droughts. However until recently this haul of data had never been gathered together in a single study. Doing so is important, because it allows the northern Maya region to be viewed as a whole, helping researchers to identify overarching trends in its rise and fall.

Now, in a study published in December, archaeologists from the US and the UK have brought together for the first time all of the calculated ages for urban centres in the northern Maya lands. These comprise about 200 dates from sites across the Yucatan peninsula, half obtained from stone calendar inscriptions and half from radiocarbon dating. The researchers could then construct a broad picture of what times the northern Maya cities had been active, and the times when they each might have fallen into decline.

What the team found significantly changes our understanding of when, and perhaps even how the Maya civilisation met its end. Contrary to previous belief, the north had suffered a decline during a time of drought - in fact, it had suffered two of them.

There was a 70% decline in stone calendar inscriptions in the second half of the 9th Century. This same pattern of decline is also echoed in radiocarbon dates across the northern Maya region, which indicate that wooden construction also dwindled during the same time period. Importantly, this is the time that the droughts are believed to have caused the collapse of the Maya civilisation in the south &ndash evidently the north didn&rsquot come through these droughts unscathed after all.

The north certainly fared better than the south, but the region nevertheless suffered a significant decline

The researchers believe that this waning of creative activity shows that political and societal collapse was underway in the north. The north certainly fared better than the south during the 9th Century, but these new findings suggest that the region nevertheless suffered a significant decline. This northern decline had previously escaped detection mostly due to the subtle nature of the evidence: a decline in construction, even one as large as this, is hard to spot without the comprehensive, region-wide analysis provided by the new study.

The northern decline of the 9th Century is an intriguing new detail in the Maya&rsquos story, but it doesn&rsquot fundamentally alter it - after all, we already knew that the northern Maya had survived past the 9th Century droughts (Chichen Itza and other centres thrived until well into the 10th Century).

But the second decline the team identified does change our understanding of the Maya&rsquos story. After a short recovery during the 10th Century (which, interestingly, was coincident with an increase in rainfall), the researchers noticed another slump in construction at numerous sites across the northern Maya territory: stone carving and other building activity seems to have fallen by almost half between AD1000 and 1075. What&rsquos more, just like the crisis 200 years earlier, the researchers discovered that this 11th Century Maya decline also took place against a backdrop of severe drought.

And not just any drought. The ones in the 9th Century had certainly been severe. But the 11th Century brought the worst drought that the region had seen for fully 2,000 years - a &ldquomegadrought&rdquo.

After a short recovery there was another slump in construction in the north &ndash against a backdrop of severe drought. Climate records show that rainfall diminished dramatically for the best part of a century, between around AD1020 and 1100 - a snug fit with the archaeologically derived dates for the collapse of the northern Maya. One correlation doesn&rsquot mean much on its own. But find two, and even sceptics might start to whisper &ldquocausation&rdquo.

After this second wave of droughts there was to be no real recovery for the Maya

The 11th Century megadrought had been implicated in the fall of the northern Maya before, but the dating techniques used had given ambiguous ages, making it hard to tell if the timings of the two events really did overlap. The comprehensive analysis published in the December study lets us say with much greater certainty that climate change was contemporaneous with not one, but two devastating periods of Maya decline.

If the first wave of droughts had finished off the Maya in the south, it looks like the second wave may have brought on their demise in the north.

After this second wave of droughts there was to be no real recovery for the Maya. Chichen Itza and most of the other important centres in the north would never rise again. There would be small but noteworthy exceptions - such as the northern city of Mayapan which flourished from the 13th to 15th centuries - but these would never rival the size and complexity of the Classic Maya cities. In many ways, the 11th Century was the Maya&rsquos last gasp.

With these findings, it looks even more likely that climate change played a significant role in the Maya&rsquos downfall. But how?

Most archaeological explanations for the collapse involve agriculture. The Maya, like all large civilisations, were heavily dependent on crops for their economic might - and of course to sustain their vast workforce. The simplest explanation for the Maya&rsquos fall is that year-upon-year of low crop yields, brought on by the droughts, may have gradually diminished the Maya&rsquos political influence, eventually leading to full-on societal disintegration.

Year-upon-year of low crop yields, brought on by the droughts, may have gradually diminished the Maya&rsquos political influence

But even advocates of the drought hypothesis admit that the picture is bound to be more nuanced than that.

&ldquoWe know that there was already increased warfare and socio-political instability throughout the Maya area prior to the 9th Century droughts,&rdquo says Julie Hoggarth at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who co-led December&rsquos climate analysis.

Inter-city conflict is a pretty good way to break up a civilisation too it&rsquos possible that the Maya just fought themselves apart. But that still leaves the question of the droughts, and those well fitting dates. Perhaps, then, it was a mixture of the two. As food stocks shrank during the dry decades, competition for resources would probably have become even more intense, perhaps eventually reaching a tipping point which caused the ancient Maya civilisation to fracture irreparably.

But there&rsquos at least one other explanation that doesn&rsquot require any warfare. It may not have been the Maya&rsquos dark side that doomed them, but their talents. Because, while the Maya were famously great craftsmen, but they were also environmental sculptors.

To grow enough food to feed their millions, the Maya dug huge systems of canals, sometimes hundreds of miles across, which allowed them to drain and elevate the infertile wetlands which cover much of the Maya heartland, producing new arable land (some archaeologists call these &ldquofloating gardens&rdquo). The Maya also cleared huge tracts of forest, both for agriculture and to make room for their cities.

Deforestation to clear land for agriculture might have exacerbated localised drying effects

Some scholars think that the Maya&rsquos skilled manipulation of their environment could have had a hand in their eventual collapse, by somehow worsening the impacts of natural climate change. For example, some scholars think that deforestation to clear land for agriculture might have exacerbated localised drying effects, leading to more significant agricultural losses during drought.

A more indirect consequence of their agricultural prowess might simply have been that it allowed the population to grow too large, which might have increased their vulnerability to an extended food shortage, and therefore reduced their resistance to a drier climate.

Whatever the reason &ndash or reasons &ndash for the Maya&rsquos collapse, we do know something about the fate of the people who were left to face its aftermath. Starting around AD1050, the Maya took to the road. They abandoned the inland regions where their ancestors had thrived, and made their way in droves towards the Caribbean coast, or to other sources of water, such as the lakes and sinkholes which occasionally punctuate the dense green of the Maya&rsquos former territory.

The exodus of the Maya people may have been motivated by hunger. If the crops had indeed failed following the 9th and 11th Century droughts, relocating nearer water might have made sense, either to access seafood or to take advantage of the wetter land near the sea. Whatever the reason, moisture was clearly on their minds.

But then again, that had always been the case. One of the duties of a Maya ruler was to commune with the gods to ensure a wet year and good harvests. At sites across the Maya world, archaeologists have dredged up human bones from the bottom of lakes and sinkholes - thought to be doorways to the underworld: grim evidence that the people resorted to sacrifice to appease their deities. When the rains were good, and the civilisation blossomed, it must have seemed like their prayers were being answered.

Epidemic Diseases of the Great Famine

Famine can be defined as a failure of food production or distribution, resulting in dramatically increased mortality. In Ireland between 1845 and 1849, general starvation and disease were responsible for more than 1,000,000 excess deaths, most of them attributable to fever, dysentery and smallpox. These three highly contagious diseases, which had long been endemic in Ireland, swept the country epidemically and with great malignity during these years. Their destructiveness was intensified by the presence of other epidemic infections, especially tuberculosis, bronchitis, influenza, pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles. The arrival of Asiatic cholera as a pandemic in 1848-49 exacerbated the situation. This fearsome disease added to the physical and mental suffering of the beleaguered population and increased the overall mortality.

Fever appears to have been a feature of the country for hundreds of years. Twelfth-century visitors commented on its extent and prevalence, as did Gerald Boate, during the Cromwellian wars. Boate called it ‘malignant fever’ and said it was ‘commonly accompanied with a great pain in the head and in all the bones, great weakness, drought, loss of all manner of appetite, and want of sleep, and for the most part idleness or raving, and restlessness or tossings, but no very great nor constant heal’. In later centuries, fever was variously described as the country’s ‘scourge and chief destroyer’, its ‘great element of destruction’ for hundreds of years. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century doctors did not know how the disease originated. Some contended that famine was the sole or paramount cause, others that food shortage was only one of several possible precipitating factors. Among the latter were poverty, the wretched housing of the poor, the paucity and inferior quality of their diet, their lack of clothing and fuel, dirt, depression, and intoxication, not to mention the pig in the kitchen and the middens that disgraced the frontage of every cabin in the country.
Some Irish medical practitioners traced the country’s recurring outbreaks of fever to some unknown connection between atmospheric or electrical phenomena and the generation of disease, the so-called ‘epidemic constitution’. This was entirely beyond the power of man to control or even comprehend properly. According to the distinguished Dublin physician and teacher, Robert J. Graves, the ‘epidemic constitution’ was some general atmospheric change that affected the whole island simultaneously. The definitions offered by his colleagues were equally vague. To one, it was an influence in the air, an unspecified ‘something’, to another the ‘epidemic constitution’ was ‘some potent aerial poison’. One of the few specific explanations offered was that of a King’s County medical practitioner who attributed an outbreak of fever at Aghamon in November 1848 to an aurora borealis which, he claimed, had shone with great brilliancy over the entire district.


It is now known that the vector of fever was not famine, nor social distress, still less atmospheric abnormalities, but pediculus humanus, the human body louse. It is also known that there were two distinct but symptomatically related infections involved, typhus fever and relapsing fever. The typhus infection can enter the body through scratches on the skin, through the conjunctiva (?), or by inhalation, while relapsing fever is generally contracted through the skin. Typhus symptoms include high fever, prostration, mental confusion, body aches and a characteristic rash which covers the trunk and limbs of the body. In cases which are not going to recover, death usually occurs from heart failure about the fourteenth day. High temperature, generalised aches and pains, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeding and jaundice are features of relapsing fever. In cases with a favourable outcome, the fever ends after five or six days with a sharp crisis attended by profuse sweating and exhaustion. This drop in body temperature was colloquially known as ‘getting the cool’. The symptoms return after about a week and there may be several such relapses before the disease runs its course.
During the Great Famine, relapsing fever was the prevalent disease among the general population, while the higher social classes tended to contract the more deadly typhus fever, especially those who were most exposed to infection, notably clergymen, doctors, members of relief committees and those connected with the administration of the poor law. The mortality rate from typhus was also more pronounced among the middle and upper classes than it was among the poor, who may have developed some immunity through long-term exposure.

Mullins’ hut at Scull, by James Mahony, ARHA. The visitor was the Revd. Dr Robert Traill, The local vicar, who succmbed to fever shortly after.
(Illustrated London News)

Optimum conditions for lice infestation

The relationship between famine and fever is complex, but there is no direct nutritional connection. Increased vagrancy and mendicity, as well as overcrowding and the neglect of personal and domestic hygiene, all of them features of famine, created the optimum social conditions for lice infestation. In Ireland, in the late 1840s, infected lice feasted on the unwashed and susceptible skin of the hungry, multiplied in their filthy and tattered clothing, and went forth, carried the length and breadth of the country by a population who had taken to the roads, vagrants and beggars, as well as the evicted and those who had abandoned their homes voluntarily. Lice found new and unresisting hosts at food depots and relief works, at social and religious gatherings, and in many public institutions, such as prisons and workhouses.
Reports from various parts of the country suggest that the first stage of the prevailing ‘famine fever’ was relatively mild. An account from Inishboffin stated that the initial attack was so slight that the afflicted ‘walked or rather staggered about with it’, while a Dublin doctor related that many passed through the fever ‘while they were literally walking about’. A characteristic of ‘famine fever’ was the voracious hunger displayed by the patient after the attack had ended. ‘The hunger was in their hearts’, said a nurse from the Queen’s County. When the relapse occurred, it was invariably more prolonged and severe. A County Limerick doctor reported that ‘the relapsed stage was long, from ten to fourteen days, very severe, attended with great debility and prostration of strength’. These recurring bouts of fever further weakened an already debilitated population and left them very vulnerable to a host of other infections, notably dysentery and diarrhoea.


The term ‘dysentery’ was formerly applied to any condition in which inflammation of the colon was associated with the frequent passage of bloody stools. The term is now restricted to amoebic dysentery, which is almost entirely confined to tropical and sub-tropical countries, and to bacillary dysentery, an infectious disease which may occur sporadically or in epidemics. The disease is caused by the dysentery bacillus and the infection is spread by flies, by direct contact, or by pollution of the water by faeces infected with the bacillus. Symptoms vary from a mild attack of diarrhoea to an acute fulminating infection. The duration of the diarrhoea varies from a few days to a fortnight, depending upon the severity of the attack. There may also be nausea, aching pain in the limbs, and shivery feelings, while there is always fever. An attack cannot develop except through the agency of the specific bacillus. However, anything which causes an intestinal upset, such as unsuitable food, predisposes to infection. Dysentery is rendered more virulent by famine and by the concurrence of other exhausting diseases.
During the terrible winter of 1846-47, chronic dysentery, or ‘starvation dysentery’ as it was sometimes called, was reported to be very prevalent among the destitute. In west Cork, which was one of the worst famine affected areas of the country, one doctor noted that the pulse of those suffering from this horrible affliction was almost entirely absent, that the extremities of the body were livid and cold, the face haggard and ghost-like, the voice barely audible and reminiscent of the cholera whine. The smell from evacuations was very offensive, almost intolerable, he said, and was similar to that of ‘putrid flesh in hot weather’. The discharges continued unabated until the body wasted to a skeleton. One Cork city doctor commented on the ‘loathsome, putrid smell’ that surrounded the diseased, as if, he said, ‘the decomposition of the vital organs had anticipated death’.

Lithograph by A. MacLure, from Lord Dufferin and Hon G.F. Boyle, Narrative of a journey from Oxford to Skibbreen…. 1847

Smallpox, which appeared epidemically in a very malignant form during the Great Famine, is no longer an active infection. It was an acute viral disease which was generally transmitted by airborne droplets. The characteristics of smallpox were high fever, headache, pain in the back and muscles, and occasionally in children vomiting and convulsions. In the severest infections, extreme toxaemia and massive haemorrhaging into the skin, lungs and other organs could cause death very quickly. In most cases, the afflicted survived to experience the characteristic rash two to five days after onset. Shortly afterwards, the small pimples of the rash turned to pustules, the drying and crusting of which began on the eight or ninth day after the first eruptions. The scabs fell off three or four weeks after the commencement of the disease, leaving the victim invariably with a pocked and scarred face. Blindness was a possible consequence, as was infertility in males.
Infectious diseases, such as fever, dysentery and smallpox, terrified the poor, and with good reason. Such afflictions pauperised, when they did not kill, and reduced the most vulnerable and oppressed to squalid misery and despair. Fever had a devastating impact on the already precarious existence of the poor. Each attack, with the weakness it left behind, lasted about six weeks and, with successive family members being struck down, fever might persist in a poor man’s cabin for months on end. Convalescence was slow and tedious, often taking six weeks and more, by which time a wage-earner’s family could be reduced to absolute poverty. Illness drove the poor into the pawn shops or compelled them to sell their meagre possessions, a pig, a cow, their miserable household furniture, or reduced them to the ultimate degradation, begging in public.

(Report of the Commissioners of Health, Ireland, on the epidemics of 1846-50).

The fear of infection and the general acceptance of the contagiousness of fever and other epidemic diseases led to the establishment of special hospitals for the isolation of the infected. Three different types of institutions, county, district and poor law union fever hospitals, evolved during the first half of the nineteenth century. The poor law union fever hospitals were the most recent, dating from 1843. They were supported out of the rates and were open to all who resided within the poor law union. County fever hospitals, which admitted the infected from all parts of the county, were entirely supported by local taxation. They evolved fitfully and by the time of the Famine not every county had one. District fever hospitals, which dated from the 1816-1819 fever epidemic, were supported by a combination of local philanthropy and local rates. Unlike county fever hospitals, there was no limit to the number which could be established. However, their method of funding, not least the necessity of raising local subscriptions on an annual basis, retarded their development. At the commencement of the Famine, there were about a hundred permanent fever hospitals in the country.
Additional accommodation was provided for the infected in wooden sheds and tents, which were often pitched in the grounds of existing hospitals. In those parts of the country where there were no medical institutions of any description, the sick, when not abandoned to their own devises, were isolated as far as possible at home or quarantined in so-called ‘fever huts’. These were wretched structures of mud or stone which were hastily thrown up at the side of a road, the corner of a field, or the verge of a bog. Some were even more rudimentary, consisting of nothing more than straw and furze tied together and placed at an angle to the ditch. In these primitive shelters, the hapless, isolated victims of fever, struggled with cold and damp, hunger and thirst, as well as infection, totally dependent on the benevolence of others and the vagaries of fate.

A later artist’s impression of people seeking admission to an Irish workhouse during the Famine, from Robert Wilson, The life and times of Queen Victoria(London 1887-88)

Domestic quarantine, which was variously inspired by family affection, the absence of hospitals or the fear of entering them, was also a feature, one which was resorted to by rich and poor alike, although one pre-Famine report from County Kilkenny suggests that it was the class of ‘comfortable farmers’ who were most likely to resort to the practice. In single-roomed dwellings, those afflicted with fever were placed at one end of the cabin, while the healthy attempted to ward off infection as best they could at the other. In more substantial dwellings, the practice was to isolate the sick in a room by blocking up the door with sods. A hole was made in the rear wall, through which the medical attendant had to scramble on all fours. Some doctors blamed the very high rate of mortality from fever among their colleagues on having to spend so much time in what one of them called ‘the wretched cabins of the poor’. The popular attitude to fever hospitals was often ambiguous. There was a widespread suspicion that these institutions were sources of infection, a suspicion which hardened during the Great Famine when 373 emergency institutions were added to the hundred or so fever hospitals already in existence. The presence of a temporary fever hospital in a district, or the proposal to establish one, often provoked a very powerful response. For instance, an attempt by the famine relief committee in Clonakilty, County Cork, to open such an institution at the beginning of 1846 was thwarted by the general refusal to rent premises to them, either in or outside the town. It appears that the merest rumour of their intention was sufficient to cause a panic wherever they went. Similarly, a poor law inspector reported from County Kerry in June 1847 that it was impossible to procure a house for use as a fever hospital in any small town in the Killarney union. ‘The inhabitants positively refuse it through apprehension of fever’, he said.
In December 1846, the board of health in Drumkeeran, County Leitrim, resolved to hire a house for use as a fever hospital, there being no such institution within a radius of eighteen miles. The proposal caused ‘inconceivable alarm’ in the town. Sixty-two of the residents, including merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, labourers, publicans, and householders, as well as Pat Gallaher, the schoolmaster, addressed a memorial to the Lord Lieutenant, objecting to the establishment of a fever hospital in the centre of the town. They stated that they were not so much opposed to the institution, as to its location. The lay-out of the town was such that fever patients would have to be transported through the main street, a necessity which they maintained posed an unacceptable risk to the town’s 600 inhabitants and to visitors on market day and fair day. They were also concerned about the threat to the commerce and trade of the entire locality. The appellants urged the Lord Lieutenant to protect their families and themselves from what they termed ‘an immediate exposure to plague’, by directing that the proposed hospital be established outside the town.
A rather similar appeal was made by the residents of Kinvarra, County Galway, in July 1847. They claimed that the imminent opening of a fever hospital in the town placed their lives and those of their families in ‘the greatest peril’. They argued that the chosen site was too close to the town, that it either adjoined or was within eight feet of a range of houses occupied by some 300 individuals and was no more than sixty yards from the town centre. In the summer of 1847, the inhabitants of Killeshandra, County Cavan, threatened to pull down any fever shed that might be erected in the town, despite the fact that fever raged throughout the district. The temporary fever hospital at Fethard, County Tipperary, which had been opened in June 1847, was denounced from the altar on several occasions. The ambition of the parish priest and his curate, as they informed their flock repeatedly, was to see grass growing at the door of the hospital. One of their clerical harangues was delivered prior to the opening of a detached convalescence ward. Later that night, the building was maliciously burned to the ground. A similar arson attack had occurred in Belturbet, County Cavan, in April 1847.
Such extreme responses were prompted by fear of contagion, although, contrarily, the same fear prompted calls for the establishment of temporary fever hospitals, where the infected could be isolated. In all, 576 such applications were received by the central board of health, the authorising body, between February 1847 and August 1850, when the board was finally dissolved. Three hundred and seventy three of these were granted, the first at Tullamore, King’s County, on 26 February 1847, followed by Mitchelstown, County Cork, on 3 March. The last temporary fever hospital was established at Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, on 17 October 1849. The weekly hospital returns demanded by the board of health showed that 332,462 patients were treated in these institutions from July 1847 to the disbandment of the service three years later. More females than males were accommodated, 173,723 as opposed to 158,739, but male mortality was higher. A total of 34,622 individuals died in the temporary hospitals, a death rate of 10.4 per cent. Despite the hostility that was levelled at these institutions, they alleviated suffering and saved lives. Given the sheer scale of the Famine, the failure of government to provide adequate financial support, and the relatively unadvanced state of contemporary medical practice, this was as much as could be expected of them.
Many doctors acknowledged their professional limitations and their inability to check the pestilence which raged around them. They were aware that dearth and disease were closely linked. They also knew that they did not have the antidote, that there was little they could do to counteract illness which originated in squalor and starvation. The political intervention they sought was overtaken by the natural. Famine-related death and emigration depleted the reservoir of disease in Ireland and the incidence of fever and other infectious diseases was significantly reduced in the wake of the disaster.

Laurence Geary is a Wellcome Research Fellow in the History of Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Further reading:

C. Poirtéir (ed.), The Great Irish Famine (Cork 1995).

R. Dudley Edwards and T. Desmond Williams (eds.), The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845-52 (Dublin 1956, 1994).

C. Morash and R. Hayes (eds.), Fearful Realities: New Perspectives on the Famine (Dublin forthcoming).

E. M. Crawford, Famine: the Irish Experience, 900-1900 (where? 1989)

Drought, record heat wave in West tied to climate change

The prolonged and widespread heat wave in the West, along with the region's increasingly severe drought, is a sign of how climate change has already tilted the odds in favor of such extremes, studies show.

Why it matters: The rapidly growing Southwest, in particular, is also the nation's fastest-warming region. The combination of heat and drought could lead to a repeat, or even eclipse, the severity of 2020's wildfire season in California and other states.

State of play: Temperatures are likely to climb well into the triple digits across most of California through the weekend, and in a half-dozen Western states.

  • Records will keep falling. By the end of this particular heat wave, it's likely that they will tally in the hundreds, with several all-time temperature records tied or broken well before what is typically the hottest time of year.

The other side: While the West is dealing with record heat and drought, the eastern U.S. will see the opposite problem -- too much water, as a tropical depression or possibly a named storm, to be called "Claudette," comes ashore along the Gulf Coast.

By the numbers:

  • Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday set a record daily high temperature of 111°F, which was the sixth straight day with a high temperature above 110°F, tied for the most on record. That milestone is likely to fall on Friday.
  • Phoenix, Arizona, saw a high temperature of 118°F on Thursday, its fifth straight day at or above 110°F.
  • Death Valley, California, hit 128°F on Thursday, a degree short of its all-time record for June.
  • Palm Springs, California, hit 123°F Thursday, tying its all-time temperature record. The city has only reached that sizzling point three other times in recorded history, but they were in the typically hotter months of July and August.
  • Las Vegas reached 116°F on Wednesday, just 1°F shy of tying its all-time warmest temperature on record.
  • Salt Lake City, Billings, Montana, and Laramie, Wyoming, matched their highest temperatures observed at any time of year on Tuesday.

Threat level: The California ISO, which operates the state's electrical grid, is asking residents to conserve power amid expected spikes in demand.

  • The 128°F high temperature Thursday in Death Valley, reached a level never seen prior to June 29, according to Meteo France meteorologist Etienne Kapikian. It was just 1°F shy of the location's hottest temperature on record during June.
  • The National Weather Service is predicting a "critical fire risk" in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah Friday, with the risk of fires starting in other states due to dry lightning ignitions from thunderstorms that fail to deliver much rain to the parched landscape.

Context: Human-caused climate change already makes present-day heatwaves about 3°F to 5°F hotter than they otherwise would be, according to climate scientist Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

    in the West to human-caused climate change, both due to increasing temperatures, which enhances evaporation, as well as shifting weather patterns that boost the odds of such events.

The big picture: A study published Thursday in Nature Climate Change found that in the Southwest, there's increasing overlap between extreme heat and very dry days, and that soil moisture conditions during June play a particular important role in this trend.

  • It follows research published last year showing that extreme heat events are getting progressively drier across the Lower 48 states as the climate warms overall. That's bad news for managing wildfires, which thrive during hot, dry and windy days.
  • A study published in late May found that high elevation forests in the West are burning more frequently and severely than they used to, which the researchers attributed in large part to shifting climate conditions.

What to watch: At the same time as brutal heat and drought is affecting the West, the East will be experiencing the opposite problem -- too much water.

A brewing tropical weather system, which may earn the name Tropical Storm Claudette prior to making landfall in coastal Louisiana this weekend, is forecast to dump between 10 and 15 inches or more of rain along the Gulf Coast.

Severe Drought, Hundreds Parish - History

Hurricane Rita nears the Texas coast in 2005. NOAA satellite photo.

March 28, 2000: Tornado. Fort Worth. A supercell over Fort Worth produced an F-3 tornado, which injured 80 people and caused significant damage. Flooding claimed the lives of two people.

May 20, 2000: Rainstorm. Southeast Texas. A flash flood in the Liberty and Dayton area was caused by 18.3 inches of rain falling in five hours. Up to 80 people had to be rescued from the flood waters property damage totalled an estimated $10 million.

July 2000: Excessive heat resulted from a high-pressure ridge, particularly from the 12th to the 21st. Dallas/Fort Worth airport reported a 10-day average of 103.3°F. College Station had 12 consecutive days of 100°F or greater temperatures. The heat caused 34 deaths in North and Southeast Texas, primarily among the elderly.

Aug. 2, 2000: Storm. Houston. Lightning struck a tree at Astroworld in Houston injuring 17 teens.

Sept. 5, 2000: Excessive heat resulted in at least eight all-time high temperature records around the state, one of which was Possum Kingdom Lake, which reached 114°F.

Dec. 13 and 24-25, 2000: Ice/Snow. Two major winter storms blanketed Northeast Texas with up to six inches of ice from each storm. Eight inches of snow fell in the Panhandle, while areas in North Texas received 12 inches. Thousands of motorists were stranded on Interstate 20 and had to be rescued by the National Guard 235,000 people lost electric service from the first storm alone. Roads were treacherous, driving was halted in several counties, and the total cost of damages from both storms reached more than $156 million.

Jan. 1&ndash31, 2001: Drought. South Texas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency received a Presidential Disaster Declaration in December 2000 because of persistent drought conditions in South Texas $125 million in damage was reported in the region.

May 2001: Storms. San Antonio, High Plains. Numerous storms causing excessive damage. Four-inch hail caused nearly $150 million in damages in San Antonio on the 6th. On the 30th, supercell thunderstorms in the High Plains region produced winds over 100 mph and golf-ball- sized hail caused more than $186 million in damage. All told, storms caused 36 injuries and more than $358 million in damage to property and agriculture.

June&ndashDecember 2001: Drought. Significant drought-like conditions occurred in Texas from early summer through December. After the yearly drought report was filed, it was determined that the total crop damage across the South Plains region was about $420 million. Consequential losses occurred to crops such as cotton, wheat, grain sorghum and corn.

June 5&ndash10, 2001: Tropical Storm Allison hit the Houston area, which dumped large amounts of rain on the city. The storm made landfall on the western end of Galveston Island and over the next five days produced record rainfall. These amazing amounts of precipitation led to devastating flooding across southeastern Texas. Some weather stations in the Houston area reported more than 40 inches of rain total and more than 18 inches in a 24-hour period. Twenty-two deaths and $5.2 billion in damage resulted.

July&ndashAugust 2001: Excessive heat plagued Texas during July and August, which resulted in 17 deaths in the Houston area.

Oct. 12, 2001: Tornado. Hondo. An F2 tornado caused $20 million in damage. The tornado injured 25 people and damaged the National Guard Armory and a large hangar at the Hondo Airport, as well as nearly two dozen aircraft. Some 150 homes in Hondo and 50 on its outskirts were damaged, and nearly 100 mobile homes were damaged.

Nov. 15, 2001: Rainstorms. Central Texas. Storms caused flash flooding and some weak tornadoes in the Edwards Plateau, South Central and southern portions of North Central regions. Flash flooding caused 8 deaths and 198 injuries.

March 2002: Storms. Central Texas. Several violent storms occurred, which produced hail, tornadoes and strong winds. Hail 1-3/4 inches in diameter caused $16 million in damage to San Angelo on the 19th, while 30 people where injured on the same day by an F2 tornado in Somerset, Bexar County, that also caused $2 million in damage. For the month, there were three fatalities, 64 injuries and more than $37.5 million in damage.

June 30&ndashJuly 7, 2002: Rainstorm. Central Texas. Excessive rainfall occurred in the South Central and Edwards Plateau regions, with some areas reporting more than 30 inches of rain. In the South Central region alone nearly $250 million dollars worth of damage was reported from this significant weather event. In Central Texas, 29 counties were devastated by the flooding and declared federal disaster areas by President George W. Bush. The total event damage was estimated at more than $2 billion.

Sept. 5&ndash7, 2002: Tropical Storm Fay. Coastal Plains. The storm made landfall along the coast on the 6th. This system produced extremely heavy rainfall, strong damaging wind gusts and tornadoes. Ten to 20 inches of rain fell in eastern Wharton County. Brazoria County was hit the hardest from this system with about 1,500 homes flooded. Tropical Storm Fay produced five tornadoes, flooded many areas and caused significant wind damage. Damage of $4.5 million was reported.

Oct. 24, 2002: Raintorms. South Texas. Severe thunderstorms in South Texas produced heavy rain, causing flooding and two tornadoes in Corpus Christi. The most extensive damage occurred across Del Mar College. The storm caused one death, 26 injuries and total damages exceeded more then $85 million in damage.

Feb. 24&ndash26, 2003: Snow/Ice. North Central Texas. A severe cold front brought freezing rain, sleet and snow to the North Central Texas. Snow accumulations were as high as 5 inches resulting in $15 million in damages. Most schools and businesses were closed for this period.

April 8, 2003: Rainstorm. Brownsville. A severe thunderstorm caused one of the most destructive hail events in the history of Brownsville. Hail exceeded 2.75 inches in diameter and caused $50 million in damages to the city. At least 5 injuries were reported.

July 14&ndash16, 2003: Hurricane Claudette. Port O&rsquoConnor. The hurricane made landfall near Port O&rsquoConnor in the late morning hours of the 14th. At landfall, wind speeds were more than 90 mph. The system, which moved westward toward Big Bend and northern Mexico, caused 1 death and 2 injuries, and total damages were estimated at more than $100 million.

Sept. 2003: Floods. Upper Coast, South Texas. Persistent flooding during the month caused more than $2 million in damages. The remnants of Tropical Storm Grace caused flash flooding along the Upper Coast region near Galveston early in September, with rainfall estimates in Matagorda County ranging from 6 to 12 inches. During the second half of the month, South Texas was hit with a deluge of rain caused by a tropical wave combined with approaching cold fronts, and monthly rainfall totals ranged from 7 to 15 inches throughout the deep south.

June 1&ndash9, 2004: Floods. North Central Texas. Flash flooding due to an upper air disturbance and associated cold front caused damage to more than 1,000 homes through North Central Texas. This was the first of many days in which heavy rains fell throughout the state. Estimated damages were more $7.5 million.

June 21, 2004: Tornadoes. Panhandle. Severe weather kicked up just ahead of a frontal boundary causing damage to Amarillo and the surrounding area. Eight tornadoes were reported around the Panhandle, and there were many reports of hail, topping out at 4.25 inches in diameter in Potter County. Thousands of homes were damaged, and the total damage was estimated at more than $150 million.

July 28&ndash29, 2004: Rainstorm. North Central Texas. A stationary front lead to torrential rainfall in Dallas and Waco. Hundreds of homes were damaged by flash flooding, as 24-hour rainfall totals for the two cities approached 5 inches. Outlying areas of the cities reported as much as 7 inches of rain in a 12-hour period on the 29th. Damage estimates topped $20 million.

Sept. 14, 2004: Storm. Grapeland. A lightning strike during football practice at Grapeland High School, Houston County, caused one death and injuries to 40 players and coaches.

Galveston, 2004. Photo by Paul Joki.

Dec. 24&ndash26, 2004: Snow. Coastal Texas. Large portions of Southeast and South Texas saw their first white Christmas in recorded history. A cold front past over the state a few days prior to Christmas Eve dropping temperatures below freezing. Another cold front brought snow, and it accumulated Christmas Eve night and into Christmas day. Galveston and Houston recorded 4 inches of snow, while areas even further south, such as Victoria, had 12 inches. Brownsville recorded 1.5 inches of snow.

March 25, 2005: Hail. Austin. In the evening of March 25, the most destructive hailstorm in 10 years struck the greater Austin area. The storm knocked out power to 5,000 homes in northwest Austin. Hail of 2 inches in diameter was reported near the Travis County Exposition Center. Total damage was estimated at $100 million.

May 2005&ndashDecember 2006: Drought. In May, portions of North Central Texas were upgraded from moderate to severe drought. By the end of the May, the drought had made significant agricultural and hydrological impacts on the region. In November, many Central Texas counties were added to the drought. The Texas Cooperative Extension estimated statewide drought losses at $4.1 billion, $1.9 billion in North Texas alone.

June 9, 2005: Tornado. Petersburg. An F-3 tornado affected the Petersburg area in southeast Hale County across to portions of southwest and south-central Floyd County. Total damage was estimated at $70 million.

Sept. 23, 2005: Hurricane Rita. Southeast Texas. The eye of Hurricane Rita moved ashore in extreme southwest Louisiana between Sabine Pass and Johnson&rsquos Bayou in Cameron Parish with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, category-3 strength. On Sept. 22, Rita had strengthened to a peak intensity of 175 mph winds. In Southeast Texas, Rita resulted in 3 fatalities, 3 injuries, and $159.5 million in property and crop damage. Property damage was estimated at $2.1 billion.

Dec. 27, 2005: Wildfire. Cross Plains. A wildfire in Callahan County caused $11 million in property damages. The fire started just west of Cross Plains and quickly moved east, fanned by winds gusting near 40 mph. The fire moved into Cross Plains quickly and two elderly people were unable to escape the flames 16 firefighters were also injured while fighting this fire.

Jan. 1, 2006: Wildfires. North Texas. Several wildfires exploded across North Texas due to low humidity, strong winds and the ongoing drought. Fires were reported in Montague, Eastland and Palo Pinto counties. Five injuries were reported as well as $10.8 million in property damage.

March 12&ndash18, 2006: Wildfires. Borger. A wildfire now known as the Borger wildfire start four miles southwest of Borger, Hutchinson County. The wildfire burned a total of 479,500 acres. In all, seven people were killed and 28 structures were lost with total property damage at $49.9 million and crop damage at $45.4 million. A second wildfire known as the Interstate-40 wildfire burned 427,696 acres. The Texas Forest Service named the two wildfires the East Amarillo Complex. In all, 12 people were killed, total property damage was $49.9 million and crop damage was $45.4 million.

March 19, 2006: Tornado. Uvalde. An F-2 tornado moved through the Uvalde area causing $1.5 million in property damage. It was the strongest tornado in South Central Texas since Oct. 12, 2001.

April 11&ndash13, 2006: Wildfire. Canadian. A wildfire 10 miles north of Canadian, Hemphill County, burned 18,000 acres and destroyed crops. Two injuries were reported. Total crop damage was estimated at $90 million.

April 18, 2006: Hail. Gillespie County. Hailstones as large as 2.5 inches in diameter destroyed windows in homes and car windshields between Harper and Doss in Gillespie County. The hail also damaged 70 percent of the area peach crop, an estimated loss of $5 million.

April 20, 2006: Hail. San Marcos. Hailstones as large at 4.25 inches in diameter (grapefruit-size) was reported south of San Marcos. Damage from this storm was estimated at $100 million with up to 10,000 vehicles damaged and another 7,000 vehicles at homes.

May 4, 2006: Hail. Snyder. Lime-to-baseball-size hail fell across Snyder in Scurry County for a least 15 minutes. The hail was blown sideways at times by 60-to-70-mph winds. Total damage was estimated at $15 million.

May 5, 2006: Tornado. Waco. A tornado with peak intensity estimated at low F-2. Total damage was $3 million.

May 9, 2006: Tornado. Childress. An F-2 tornado resulted in significant damage along a one-and-one-half mile path through the north side of Childress during the evening hours. An instrument at Childress High School measured a wind gust of 109 mph. Property damage was estimated at $5.7 million.

Aug. 1, 2006: Thunderstorms. El Paso. Storms in a saturated atmosphere repeatedly developed and moved over mainly the northwest third of El Paso County, concentrating in an area near the Franklin Mountains. Rainfall reports varied from 4&ndash6 inches within 15 hours, with an isolated report of about 8 inches on the western slope of the mountain range. Antecedent conditions from 4 days of heavy rains, combined with terrain effects of the mountains, led to excessive runoff and flooding not seen on such a large scale in the El Paso area in more than 100 years. Property damage was estimated at $180 million.

March 29, 2007: Floods. Corsicana. Flash flooding along Interstate 45 submerged two cars in Navarro County, north of Corsicana, and two feet of water was reported on I-45 and Texas 31, east of town. Damage to businesses, roads and bridges was estimated at $19 million.

April 13, 2007: Hail. Colleyville. Teacup-size hail was reported in Colleyville as strong storms developed in Tarrant County. Hail damage to 5,500 cars and 3,500 homes and businesses was estimated at $10 million.

April 24, 2007: Tornado. Eagle Pass. A large tornado crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico near 6 p.m., striking Rosita Valley, near Eagle Pass. Ten deaths were reported, including a family of five in a mobile home. Golf-ball size hail and the tornado struck Rosita Valley Elementary School, leaving only the interior walls standing. Damage indicated wind speeds near 140 mph and an F-3 level, with a path one-quarter mile wide and four miles long. The tornado also destroyed one 59 manufactured homes and 57 houses. Total damage was estimated at $80 million.

June 17&ndash18, 2007: Floods. North Texas. Torrential rain fell as an upper-level low lingered for several days. In Tarrant County, one person drowned after her rescue boat capsized. Hundreds of people were rescued from high water. In Grayson County, a woman died in floodwaters as she drove under an overpass, and another death occurred in a flooded truck. Three people in Cooke County died when a mobile home was carried away by floodwaters. Damage was estimated at $30 million in Tarrant County, $20 million in Grayson County and $28 million in Cooke County.

June 27, 2007: Floods. Marble Falls. Two lines of thunderstorms produced 10&ndash19 inches of rain in southern Burnet County. Hardest hit was Marble Falls, where two young men died in the early morning when their jeep was swept into high water east of town. Damage to more than 315 homes and businesses was $130 million.

Sept. 13, 2007: Hurricane Humberto. Jefferson County. Hurricane Humberto made landfall around 1 a.m. in rural southwestern Jefferson County near McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. Minimum pressure was around 985 millibars, with maximum winds at 90 mph. Some flash flooding occurred in urban areas between Beaumont and Orange, as 11 inches of rain fell in Jefferson County. Coastal storm tides were 3&ndash5 feet, with the highest storm surge occurring at Texas Point. Humberto caused one death, 12 injuries and $25 million in damage.

March 31, 2008: Hail. Northeast Texas. Severe thunderstorms developed across the Red River valley of Northeast Texas, many producing large hail that damaged car windows, skylights and roofs in Texarkana and elsewhere in Bowie County. Damage was estimated at $120 million.

April 10, 2008: Tornadoes. Johnson County. A lone supercell thunderstorm evolved in the afternoon on April 9, producing tornadoes and large hail. A tornado touched down near Happy Hill and traveled northeast 3 miles to Pleasant Point, where it dissipated. The F-1 tornado, with maximum wind speeds of 90&ndash95 mph, destroyed three homes and damaged more than 30 homes and other buildings. Damage was $25 million.

May 14, 2008: Hail. Austin. A severe thunderstorm southwest of Austin moved northeast across downtown Austin causing extensive damage from winds and large hail. Large trees and branches were knocked down, and baseball-size hail and 70&ndash80 mph winds blew out windows in apartments and office buildings, including the State Capitol. Total damage was estimated at $50 million.

August 18, 2008: Floods. Wichita Falls. An unseasonably strong upper-level storm system moved over North Texas, and several waves of heavy thunderstorms caused high precipitation and widespread flooding in the Iowa Park, Burkburnett and Wichita Falls areas. In Wichita Falls, many homes were flooded and residents were evacuated by boat. At least 118 homes were flooded, 19 of which were destroyed. Burkburnett and Iowa Park were isolated for a few hours because of street flooding. Damage was estimated at $25 million, and Gov. Rick Perry declared Wichita County a disaster area.

Sept. 12, 2008: Hurricane Ike. Galveston. The eye of Hurricane Ike moved ashore near the city of Galveston. The central pressure was 951.6 millibars, with maximum sustained winds around 110 mph, which made Hurricane Ike a strong Category-2 storm. There were 12 deaths directly related to Ike, with 11 occurring in Galveston County from drowning due to storm surge. There were at least another 25 fatalities indirectly related to Ike, either due to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, accidents while clearing debris, or house fires from candles. The majority of property damage at the coast was a result of storm tide. Damage was typical of a Category-3 or -4 storm, and collectively, damage amounts were near $14 billion in the counties of Harris, Chambers, Galveston, Liberty, Polk, Matagorda, Brazoria, Fort Bend, San Jacinto, and Montgomery, with an estimated $8 billion of that due to storm surge in coastal Galveston, Harris, and Chambers counties.

Jan. 19, 2009: Wildfire. Hidalgo County. With the aid of strong gusts, low humidity, a lack of rain, and warm temperatures, a wildfire spread across Hidalgo County and consumed four buildings at the Moore Air Force Base. By the time the wildfire had been contained, it had spread to 2,560 acres, and the damage at the air force base was estimated at $10 million.

March 30, 2009: Hail. Northeast Tarrant County. Ping-pong- to baseball-size hail fell on numerous cities in northeast Tarrant County due to a strong line of severe storms. Much of the damage was to automobiles, and the overall estimated damage was $95 million.

April 11, 2009: Hail. Midland. Up to golf-ball-size hail caused tremendous damage to homes and vehicles during a severe storm. There was an estimated $160 million in roof repair. A woman was pelted in the stomach by a hailstone that broke through the window in her dining room.

May 2, 2009: Thunderstorm Wind. Irving. The National Weather Service determined that a microburst caused the Dallas Cowboys&rsquo bubble practice facility to collapse from winds estimated at 70 mph. Twelve people were injured, including one coach who was paralyzed from the waist down. The damage was estimated at $5 million.

June 11, 2009: Thunderstorm Wind. Burnet. A peak wind of 67 mph was measured at the Burnet Airport and numerous planes were flipped or blown across the tarmac. Damage in the entire city was estimated at $5 million.

Sept. 16, 2009: Hail. El Paso. A series of supercell storms produced golf-ball-size and possibly tennis-ball-size hail that caused extensive damage. The most costly hailstorm in recorded history for the El Paso area, the estimated damage was $150 million.

Dec. 23, 2009: Tornado. Lufkin. An EF3 tornado touched down in Lufkin and caused extensive damage to structures, homes, and vehicles as it tore through the city. The twister and heavy rains caused damage estimated at $10 million.

Water crisis 'couldn't be worse' on Oregon-California border

1 of 15 In this handout photo released by the Yurok Tribe shows 70 dead juvenile salmon captured by the Yurok Tribe that are presumed to have died from deadly pathogen, Ceratonova shasta, in the Klamath River water flows. On May 4, 2021, the most recent date for which data is available, 97 percent of the juvenile salmon captured between the Shasta River and Scott River stretch of the Klamath were infected with C. Shasta and will be dead within days, according to the Yurok Tribe. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it won't release water into the main canal that feeds the massive Klamath Project irrigation system for the first time in 114 years, leaving many farmers and ranchers with no water at all. The agency also says it won't release water from the same dam to increase downstream water levels in the lower Klamath River, where tribes say 97% of juvenile salmon are dying from a bacterial disease caused by poor water conditions. ( Jamie Holt/Yurok Tribe via AP) Jamie Holt/AP Show More Show Less

2 of 15 A group of roughly 30 people affiliated with People's Rights Oregon gathered at Klamath Irrigation District headquarters in Klamath Falls, Ore., on Thursday, May 13, 2021, to protest after federal regulators shut off irrigation water to farmers from a critical reservoir due to drought conditions. (Alex Schwartz/The Herald And News via AP) Alex Schwartz/AP Show More Show Less

4 of 15 FILE - In this April 8, 2015, file photo, a tractor works a parcel of farm land in the Klamath Basin near Klamath Falls, Ore. A severe drought is creating a water crisis not seen in more than a century for farmers, tribes and federally protected fish along the Oregon-California border. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it won't release water into the main canal that feeds the massive Klamath Project irrigation system for the first time in 114 years, leaving many farmers and ranchers with no water at all. (Dave Martinez/The Herald And News via AP, File) Dave Martinez/AP Show More Show Less

5 of 15 FILE - In this March 3, 2020, file photo, is the Iron Gate Dam, powerhouse and spillway are on the lower Klamath River near Hornbrook, Calif. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said this week that it won't release water into the main canal that feeds the massive Klamath Project irrigation system, marking the first time in 114 years that no water has flowed in the so-called A Canal. The agency announced last month that irrigators would get dramatically less water than usual, but a worsening drought picture means water will be completely shut off instead, the agency said. Gillian Flaccus/AP Show More Show Less

7 of 15 FILE - This Oct. 1, 2002, file photo shows hundreds of Klamath River salmon rotting near Klamath, Calif., after restoration of irrigation to farmers upstream produced low and warm water conditions that spread disease among the fish. A severe drought is creating a water crisis not seen in more than a century for farmers, tribes and federally protected fish along the Oregon-California border. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it won't release water into the main canal that feeds the massive Klamath Project irrigation system for the first time in 114 years, leaving many farmers and ranchers with no water at all. The agency also says it won't release water from the same dam to increase downstream water levels in the lower Klamath River, where tribes say 97% of juvenile salmon are dying from a bacterial disease caused by poor water conditions. JOE CAVARETTA/AP Show More Show Less

8 of 15 This July 2019, photo release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, shows a distended belly on this juvenile Chinook salmon is a clinical sign of Ceratomyxa shasta infection. A severe drought is creating a water crisis not seen in more than a century for farmers, tribes and federally protected fish along the Oregon-California border. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it won't release water into the main canal that feeds the massive Klamath Project irrigation system for the first time in 114 years, leaving many farmers and ranchers with no water at all. The agency also says it won't release water from the same dam to increase downstream water levels in the lower Klamath River, where tribes say 97% of juvenile salmon are dying from a bacterial disease caused by poor water conditions. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP) AP Show More Show Less

10 of 15 A group of roughly 30 people affiliated with People's Rights Oregon gathered at Klamath Irrigation District headquarters in Klamath Falls, Ore., on Thursday, May 13, 2021, to protest after federal regulators shut off irrigation water to farmers from a critical reservoir due to drought conditions. (Alex Schwartz/The Herald And News via AP) Alex Schwartz/AP Show More Show Less

11 of 15 FILE - In this March 2, 2020, file photo, farmer Ben DuVal, his wife, Erika, and their daughters, Hannah, 12, in purple, and Helena, 10, in gray, stand near a canal for collecting run-off water near their property in Tulelake, Calif. A severe drought is creating a water crisis not seen in more than a century for farmers, tribes and federally protected fish along the Oregon-California border as federal authorities cut off releases from a dam that provides critical sustenance for a massive irrigation project and bolsters downstream water levels for dangerously diminished salmon populations. Gillian Flaccus/AP Show More Show Less

13 of 15 FILE - In this March 5, 2020, file photo, Hunter Maltz, a fish technician for the Yurok tribe, pushes a jet boat into the Klamath River at the confluence of the Klamath River and Blue Creek as Keith Parker, a Yurok tribal fisheries biologist, watches near Klamath, Calif. A severe drought is creating a water crisis not seen in more than a century for farmers, tribes and federally protected fish along the Oregon-California border as federal authorities cut off releases from a dam that provides critical sustenance for a massive irrigation project and bolsters downstream water levels for dangerously diminished salmon populations. Gillian Flaccus/AP Show More Show Less

14 of 15 FILE - In this March 2, 2020, file photo, birds take off from a marsh in the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon-California border. The refuge is not far from four dams on the lower Klamath River that could soon be demolished in the largest dam demolition project in U.S. history. The proposal to remove the dams on California's second-largest river to benefit threatened salmon has sharpened a decades-old dispute over who has the biggest claim to the river's life-giving waters. Gillian Flaccus/AP Show More Show Less

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) &mdash The water crisis along the California-Oregon border went from dire to catastrophic this week as federal regulators shut off irrigation water to farmers from a critical reservoir and said they would not send extra water to dying salmon downstream or to a half-dozen wildlife refuges that harbor millions of migrating birds each year.

In what is shaping up to be the worst water crisis in generations, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it will not release water this season into the main canal that feeds the bulk of the massive Klamath Reclamation Project, marking a first for the 114-year-old irrigation system. The agency announced last month that hundreds of irrigators would get dramatically less water than usual, but a worsening drought picture means water will be completely shut off instead.

The entire region is in extreme or exceptional drought, according to federal monitoring reports, and Oregon's Klamath County is experiencing its driest year in 127 years.

&ldquoThis year&rsquos drought conditions are bringing unprecedented hardship to the communities of the Klamath Basin,&rdquo said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, calling the decision one of &ldquohistoric consequence.&rdquo &ldquoReclamation is dedicated to working with our water users, tribes and partners to get through this difficult year and developing long-term solutions for the basin.&rdquo

The canal, a major component of the federally operated Klamath Reclamation Project, funnels Klamath River water from the Upper Klamath Lake just north of the Oregon-California border to more than 130,000 acres (52,600 hectares), where generations of ranchers and farmers have grown hay, alfalfa and potatoes and grazed cattle.

Only one irrigation district within the 200,000-acre (80,940-hectare) project will receive any water from the Klamath River system this growing season, and it will have a severely limited supply, the Klamath Water Users Association said in a statement. Some other farmers rely on water from a different river, and they will also have a limited supply.

&ldquoThis just couldn&rsquot be worse,&rdquo said Klamath Irrigation District president Ty Kliewer. &ldquoThe impacts to our family farms and these rural communities will be off the scale.&rdquo

At the same time, the agency said it would not release any so-called &ldquoflushing flows&rdquo from the same dam on the Upper Klamath Lake to bolster water levels downstream in the lower Klamath River. The river is key to the survival of coho salmon, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In better water years the pulses of water help keep the river cool and turbulent &mdash conditions that help the fragile species. The fish are central to the diet and culture of the Yurok Tribe, California's largest federally recognized tribe.

The tribe said this week that low flows from drought and from previous mismanagement of the river by the federal agency was causing a die-off of juvenile salmon from a disease that flourishes when water levels are low. Yurok fish biologists who have been testing the baby salmon in the lower Klamath River are finding that 70% of the fish are already dead in the traps used to collect them and 97% are infected by the parasite known as C. shasta.

&ldquoRight now, the Klamath River is full of dead and dying fish on the Yurok Reservation,&rdquo said Frankie Myers, vice chairman of the Yurok Tribe. &ldquoThis disease will kill most of the baby salmon in the Klamath, which will impact fish runs for many years to come. For salmon people, a juvenile fish kill is an absolute worst-case scenario.&rdquo

Irrigators, meanwhile, reacted with disbelief as the news of a water shut-off in the canals spread. A newsletter published by the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents many of the region's farmers, blared the headline, &ldquoWorst Day in the History of the Klamath Project.&rdquo Farmers reported already seeing dust storms that obscured vision for 100 yards (91 meters), and they worried about their wells running dry.

About 30 protesters showed up Thursday at the head gates of the main dam to protest the shut-off and ask the irrigation district to defy federal orders and divert the water. The Herald and News reported that they were with a group called People&rsquos Rights, a far-right organization founded by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, have declared drought emergencies in the region, and the Bureau of Reclamation has set aside $15 million in immediate aid for irrigators. Another $10 million will be available for drought assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, urged his members to remain peaceful and not let the water crisis &ldquobe hijacked for other causes.&rdquo

The seasonal allocations are the region's most dramatic development since irrigation water was all but cut off to hundreds of farmers in 2001 amid another severe drought &mdash the first time farmers' interests took a backseat to fish and tribes.

Historic Mexican church emerges from lake as drought ravages country

A 19th-century church that disappeared beneath a Mexican lake more than 40 years ago has been revealed in stunning new images, illustrating the devastating effects of severe drought on the region.

The images show the crumbling Temple of the Virgin of Dolores breaching the surface of Lake Purisma in Guanajuato, more than four decades after it first disappeared in 1979 with the construction of a dam.

More than 70 per cent of Mexico is currently in drought, with a lack of rain in 2021 depleting the country’s dams to below 50 per cent capacity.

The church, which once housed a rectory and civil registry of Villa Real de Mina, reappeared in July last year as a result of a drought that dropped the country’s water supply to its lowest levels in 25 years, according to Mexico News Daily.

Construction of the dam was ordered by former president José López Portillo after another dam burst six years earlier about 15 miles away in the town of Irapuato, according to Spanish-language newspaper Milenio, which was first to publish the images.

Dulce Vázquez, director of the community’s municipal archive, told the newspaper that there was resistance from residents of El Zangarro, who were relocated to nearby land to a new town of the same name.

"The place, the parish, was crowded, because there was the civil registry and the vicarage, it had permission to carry out these types of procedures, that is why it was a very important place," Ms Vázque said.

“Oral history tells that it was very difficult for them to leave the place, not just because of the buildings, but because of the sense of belonging to the place… A few resisted until they saw it was already a reality that the water would arrive to cover the entire town."

Construction of the dam flooded 1,200 hectares and covered the town of El Zangarro, including the church, which some "documentary sources" suggest could date back 100-years earlier to the 18th-century.

The lack of rain in the first quarter of 2021 has prompted Mexico’s National Water Commission chief, Blanca Jiménez Cisneros, to begin water-saving measures as more than 70 per cent of the country remains in drought.

He told a press conference in April that Guanajuato, the region where the Temple of the Virgin of Dolores is located, is among the most affected areas in the country, along with Guerrero, Michoacán and Oaxaca.

He said many of the country’s dams are below 50 per cent capacity, down 23 per cent from 2020, and drought conditions are expected to continue in 2021, according to Mexico News Daily.

Ms Vázque said the receding waters had revealed more treasures than just the church itself.

"Things have been found, although it is already very looted, imagine, we are talking from 1979 until today it has been a long time," she said.

Amazing 200-year-old church emerges from lake as drought causes waters to drop

A majestic 19th Century church that was once part of a bustling town has emerged from the depths of a lake in Mexico after water levels dramatically dropped following severe drought in the region.

The church, known as the Temple of the Virgin of Dolores, was last seen in 1979 before the construction of a dam drowned the entire area.

The crumbling Temple of the Virgin of Dolores spent 40 years laid hidden beneath Lake Purisma in Guanajuato and reappeared in July last year as a result of the drought, according to The Independent.

The church, which once housed a rectory and civil registry of Villa Real de Mina which was part of the community in the town of El Zangarro.

Documents suggest that the temple could actually date as far back as the 18th Century.

Former president José López Portillo ordered the construction of the dam after a nearby one in the town of Irapuato burst six years before.

Dulce Vázquez, director of the community’s municipal archive, told Mexico News Today : "The place, the parish, was crowded, because there was the civil registry and the vicarage, it had permission to carry out these types of procedures, that is why it was a very important place."

“Oral history tells that it was very difficult for them to leave the place, not just because of the buildings, but because of the sense of belonging to the place.

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"A few resisted until they saw it was already a reality that the water would arrive to cover the entire town."

The dam flooded 1,200 hectares and covered the entire town in water until the devastating drought set in.

Mexico’s National Water Commission chief, Blanca Jiménez Cisneros prompted Mexico to adopt water saving measures after 70 per cent of the country was deemed in a drought.

The area where the Temple of the Virgin of Dolores is located is among the worst affected areas in the country and dams are 50 per cent below capacity.

Ms Vázque said the receding waters had revealed more treasures than just the church itself but they had been subjected to looting.

"Things have been found, although it is already very looted, imagine, we are talking from 1979 until today it has been a long time," she added.


The U.S. Drought Monitor provides a national database to track the duration and severity of droughts in the United States. It is hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their standardized measurements track droughts on a severity scale from "Abnormally Dry" (D0) to "Exceptional" (D4). [4]

Mechanisms of producing precipitation include convective, stratiform, [5] and orographic rainfall. [6] Convective processes involve strong vertical motions that can cause the overturning of the atmosphere in that location within an hour and cause heavy precipitation, [7] while stratiform processes involve weaker upward motions and less intense precipitation over a longer duration. [8] Precipitation can be divided into three categories, based on whether it falls as liquid water, liquid water that freezes on contact with the surface, or ice.

If these factors do not support precipitation volumes sufficient to reach the surface over a sufficient period of time, the result is a drought. Drought can be triggered by a high level of reflected sunlight and above average prevalence of high pressure systems, winds carrying continental, rather than oceanic air masses, and ridges of high pressure areas aloft can prevent or restrict the developing of thunderstorm activity or rainfall over one certain region. Once a region is within drought, feedback mechanisms such as local arid air, [9] hot conditions which can promote warm core ridging, [10] and minimal evapotranspiration can worsen drought conditions. Winters during El Niño are warmer and drier than average in the Northwest, northern Midwest, and northern Mideast United States, so those regions experience reduced snowfalls.

Activities resulting in global climate change are expected to trigger droughts with a substantial impact on agriculture [11] and increased social unrest throughout the world, especially in developing nations. [12] [13] [14] Overall, global warming will result in increased world rainfall. [15] Along with drought in some areas, flooding and erosion will increase in others. Paradoxically, some proposed solutions to global warming that focus on more active techniques, solar radiation management through the use of a space sunshade for one, may also carry with them increased chances of drought. [16]

Certain regions within the United States are more susceptible to droughts than others. Droughts can be more damaging than tornadoes, tropical cyclones, winter storms and flooding combined. Unlike a hurricane, tornado or flooding, the onset of droughts happen gradually over a long period of time.

In dry areas, removing grass cover and going with a more natural vegetation for the area can reduce the impact of drought, since a significant amount of fresh water is used to keep lawns green. In the Nevada "cash for grass" program, the people are paid to remove grass and put in desert landscaping. Xeriscaping calls for the planting of vegetation which is local in origin and more resistant to drought.

When California suffered a severe drought from 1985 to 1991, a California company, Sun Belt Water Inc. was established for the purpose importing water from Canada in marine transport vessels formerly used for oil transport and converted to water carriers. The idea was commercially viable and Sun Belt Water Inc., was selected by the Goleta Water District to enter a long term contract. When the government of British Columbia reversed its existing bulk water export policy, the change in government policy led to a claim by Sun Belt Water Inc. against Canada under the provisions of Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). [17] [18]

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Act was signed into law in 2006 (Public Law 109-430). The Western Governors' Association described the need for NIDIS in a 2004 report, Creating a Drought Early Warning System for the 21st Century: The National Integrated Drought Information System. The NIDIS Act calls for an interagency, multi-partner approach to drought monitoring, forecasting, and early warning, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NIDIS is being developed to consolidate data on drought's physical, hydrological and socio-economic impacts on an ongoing basis, to develop drought decision support and simulation tools for critical, drought-sensitive areas, and to enable proactive planning by those affected by drought. NIDIS (www.drought.gov) draws on the personnel, experience, and networks of the National Drought Mitigation Center, the NOAA Regional Climate Centers, and the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISAs), among others. Federal agencies and departments partnering in NIDIS include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Pre-1800 Edit

The earliest and longest drought discussed in the literature is the "Altithermal Long Drought", [19] which some scholars now believe was in reality two severe shorter droughts (ca. 7000-6500 BP and 6000-5500 BP), separated by an interval. Other early notable droughts in North America include the Fairbank Drought of 500 BC [20] and the Whitewater Drought of 330 C.E. [21] [22]

There were megadroughts in what is now the central and western United States, between 900 and 1300. [23] A megadrought struck what is now the American Southwest 1276–1299 C.E., which severely affected the Pueblo cities, [24] [25] and tree rings also document drought in the lower and central Mississippi River basin between the 14th and 16th century. The droughts of that period may have contributed to the decline and fall of the Mississippian cultures. [26] Data from tree rings indicate that the megadroughts which occurred throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, exceeded anything which occurred within the twentieth century in both spatial extent and duration, including the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and drought in the 1950s, [27] but was co-equal to the drought there in the early 21st century. [28]

The 18th century seems to have been a relatively wet century in North America, but there were apparently droughts in Iowa in 1721, 1736, and from 1771 to 1773. [29]

19th Century Edit

There were at least three major droughts in 19th-century North America: one from the mid-1850s to the mid-1860s, one in the 1870s, and one in the 1890s. [26] [30] There was also a drought around 1820 the periods from 1816 to 1844 and from 1849 to 1880 were rather dry, and the 19th century overall was a dry century for the Great Plains. [31] While there was little rain-gauge data from the mid-19th century in the middle of the US, there were plenty of trees, and tree-ring data showed evidence of a major drought from around 1856 to around 1865. Native Americans were hard hit, as the bison they depended upon on the Plains moved to river valleys in search of water, and those valleys were full of natives and settlers alike. The river valleys were also home to domestic livestock, which competed against the bison for food. The result was starvation for many of the bison.

The 1870–1877 drought brought with it a major swarm of Rocky Mountain Locusts, as droughts benefit locusts, making plants more nutritious and edible to locusts and reducing diseases that harm locusts. Locusts also grow more quickly during a drought and gather in small spots of lush vegetation, enabling them to swarm, facts which contributed to the ruin of much of the farmland in the American West. The evidence for this drought is also primarily in tree-ring, rather than rain gauge, data.

The 1890s drought, between 1890 and 1896, was the first to be widely and adequately recorded by rain gauges, with much of the American West having been settled. Railroads promised land to people willing to settle it, and the period between 1877 and 1890 was wetter than usual, leading to unrealistic expectations of land productivity. The amount of land required to support a family in more arid regions was already larger than the amount that could realistically be irrigated by a family, but this fact was made more obvious by the drought, leading to emigration from recently settled lands. The Federal government started to assist with irrigation with the 1902 Reclamation Act. [30]

1930s Edit

The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. [32] Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, carried by prevailing winds which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions itself. These immense dust storms—given names such as "Black Blizzards" and "Black Rollers"—often reduced visibility to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km 2 ), centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. [33]

Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes many of these families (often known as "Okies", since so many of them came from Oklahoma) traveled to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better than those they had left. Owning no land, many traveled from farm to farm picking fruit and other crops at starvation wages. Author John Steinbeck later wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Of Mice and Men about such people.

Negative effects included bank closures and overburdened relief and health agencies. Economic migrants also had mixed success as native workers in many areas resented the intense competition for dwindling jobs. The National Drought Mitigation Center has reported that financial assistance from the government alone may have been as high as $1 billion (in 1930s dollars) by the end of the drought. [3]

1940s Edit

Drought began in the Southwestern United States in 1944 and continued through the entire rest of the decade one of the longest recorded droughts observed there. This drought continued into the 1950s. [34]

1950s Edit

Other severe drought years in the United States happened through the 1950s. These droughts continued from the 1940s drought in the Southwestern United States, New Mexico and Texas during 1950 and 1951 the drought was widespread through the Central Plains, Midwest and certain Rocky Mountain States, particularly between the years 1953 and 1957, and by 1956 parts of central Nebraska reached a drought index of −7, three points below the extreme drought index. [35] From 1950 to 1957, Texas experienced the most severe drought in recorded history. By the time the drought ended, 244 of Texas's 254 counties had been declared federal disaster areas. [36] Drought became particularly severe in California, with some natural lakes drying up completely in 1953. Southern California was hit hard by drought in 1958–59, badly straining water resources. A widespread, 1930s-style dust storm affected the Plains and beyond on 19 February 1954 driven by winds of up to 100 mph/161 km/h, drifting soil to 3 feet/a metre deep in some areas. [37] [38]

1960s Edit

The Northeastern United States were hit with devastating drought which lasted almost four to five years in the 1960s. The drought affected multiple regional cities from Virginia into Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York the drought also affected certain Midwest States, [39] including Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and the Great Plains. [40] Drought continued in parts of California in the early 1960s. Southern California recorded its worst drought of the 20th century in 1961.

1970s Edit

Short term droughts hit particular spots of the United States during 1976 and 1977. California's statewide snowpack reached an all-time low in 1977. Water resources and agriculture (especially livestock) suffered negatively impacting the nation's economy. This drought reversed itself completely the following year. [41]

1980s Edit

Droughts also affected the Northeast US, Corn Belt and Midwest States during 1980 and 1983. The 1983 Midwestern States Drought was associated with very dry conditions, severe heat and substandard crop growth which affected prices and caused hardship for farmers. [42] Multiple disaster declarations went out in Indiana and neighboring states because of the 1983 drought. [43] Readings of 100 °F (38 °C) or higher became prevalent in 1983 during these dry spells across the Midwest, Ohio Valley Regions and Great Lakes. Kentucky declared the 1983 drought their second-worst in the 20th century 1983 was Ohio's driest calendar year. Los Angeles received more rainfall than Cleveland that year. The drought forced many trees and shrubs into dormancy and created water shortages in many towns. [44] The associating heat waves killed between 500–700 people in the United States. Similar spells during 1980 caused between 4000 and 12000 deaths in the United States along with $24 billion in damage 1980 USD.

A severe drought struck the Southeast from 1985 through 1987. It began in 1985 from the Carolinas west-southwest into Alabama, when annual rainfall was reduced by 5 to 35 percent below what was normal. Light precipitation continued into the spring of 1986, with Atlanta, Georgia recording their driest first six months on record. High amounts of precipitation during the winter of 1987 ended the drought. [45]

The Western United States experienced a lengthy drought in the late 1980s. California went through one of its longest observed droughts, from late 1986 through early 1991. Drought worsened in 1988-89, as much of the United States also suffered from severe drought. In California, the five-year drought ended in late 1991 as a result of unusual persistent heavy rains, most likely caused by a significant El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. [46]

Another significant drought in the United States occurred during 1988 and 1989. Following a milder drought in the Southeastern United States the year before, this drought spread from the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Northern Great Plains and Western United States. This drought was widespread, unusually intense and accompanied by heat waves which killed around 4,800 to 17,000 people across the United States and also killed livestock across the United States. [ citation needed ] One particular reason that the drought of 1988 became very damaging was farmers might have farmed on land which was marginally arable. Another reason was pumping groundwater near the depletion mark. The drought of 1988 destroyed crops almost nationwide, residents' lawns went brown and water restrictions were declared many cities. The Yellowstone National Park fell victim to wildfires that burned many trees and created exceptional destruction in the area. This drought was very catastrophic for multiple reasons it continued across the Upper Midwest States and North Plains States during 1989, not officially ending until 1990. [47]

The conditions continued into 1989 and 1990, although the drought had ended in some states thanks to normal rainfalls returning to some portions of the United States. [48] Dry conditions, however, increased again during 1989, affecting Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, Kansas and certain portions of Colorado. [49] [50] [51] The drought also affected Canada in certain divisions. [ citation needed ] The drought of 1988 became the worst drought since the Dust Bowl 50 years before in the United States 2008 estimates put damages from the drought somewhere between $80 billion and almost $120 billion in damage (2008 USD). The drought of 1988 was so devastating that in later years it was compared against Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and against Hurricane Katrina [52] [53] in addition, it would be the costliest of the three events: Hurricane Katrina comes second with $81 billion (2005 United States dollars), Hurricane Andrew coming in third. The drought of 1988 qualifies being the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

1990s Edit

During 1993 the Southeastern United States experienced high temperatures and conditions of drought for extended periods. The heat waves associated caused the deaths of seventeen people and overall damage from the Southeastern-state drought of 1993 was somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion in damage (1993 U.S. dollars). [54]

Similar drought conditions hit the Northeast United States during 1999 – the Northeast, including Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland were pummeled by extensive heat waves which killed almost 700 people across the Northeastern U.S. and unusually dry conditions caused billions of dollars in destruction during 1999. [55] This unusually damaging drought was reminiscent of the Northeast United States drought of the 1960s considering it affected similar states within the Northeast United States and New England.

2000s Edit

The Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions had a drought during 2002, which was accompanied by dry conditions, wildfires and hot temperatures over the Western US and Midwest areas. [56] [57] The U.S. drought of 2002 turned a normal fire season into a very dangerous, treacherous and violent season. Denver was forced to impose mandatory limits regarding water for the first time in twenty-one years, as Colorado and other states in the Southwest were hit particularly hard by the severe drought conditions in 2002. [58] [59] The Quad Cities had around 8 inches (200 mm) below average rainfall during 2002 (normal precipitation is 38.06 inches (967 mm) every year, during 2002 30.00 inches (762 mm) were recorded). The 2001–02 rain season in Southern California was the driest since records began in 1877. San Diego recorded only 2.99 inches (76 mm), compared to the annual average of 10.34 inches (263 mm). Records were broken in an even worse drought just five years later, during the 2006–07 rain season in Los Angeles (3.21 inches (82 mm) compared to the annual average of 15.14 inches (385 mm)). [60] [61]

The U.S. drought of 2002 was reminiscent of the 1988 drought and was compared to the droughts of the 1930s, the 1983 drought and the dry spells of the 1950s. The drought also affected Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, in Canada. [62]

Although the Western United States and Southwestern U.S. are most likely to be hit, droughts can also happen over the Upper Midwestern States, the Central Great Plains, Southeast United States, the Middle Atlantic, the Great Lakes Region, the Ohio River Valley, Northeastern United States and even New England. Droughts vary in severity and have potential for causing elevated to exceptional damage wherever they focus their area toward.

There were extensive droughts through the 2000s (decade) all over the Southeastern United States, continuing as far westward as Texas. The Southeastern United States were affected by heavy droughts extending from the Carolinas toward Mississippi and even into Tennessee and Kentucky. Droughts affecting Florida were so severe that lakes were actually drying out. Wildfires, forest fires, and brush fires were very prevalent in association with the 2000s (decade) drought in the Southeastern United States. The drought of 2006–07 in California contributed to the extreme severity of the 2007 California wildfires.

Missouri, Arkansas, (portions of) Louisiana, Tennessee, southeast Iowa and northern Illinois were hit with severe droughts and heat during 2005. [63] [64] The conditions caused $1 billion in overall damage, there were no deaths attributed to the drought and associated heat spells. The Quad Cities themselves received only 17.88 inches (454 mm) of precipitation during 2005. [65]

In 2008 and 2009, much of south and south-central Texas were in a state of exceptional drought. [66]

California also experienced a multiyear drought, peaking in 2007–2009, when a statewide drought emergency was issued. Although reports of widespread agricultural losses were reduced in later analysis, large decreases were seen in many fish populations in the region, and additional reliance on groundwater in farming may have set the precedent for further damages in the 2012–2015 California drought. [67]

2010s Edit

The California drought continued through 2010 and did not end until March 2011. [ citation needed ] The drought shifted east during the summer of 2011 to affect a large portion of the Southwest and Texas. See above for additional information on this drought. In 2013 and early 2014, the California drought returned and intensified, expanding to much of the western US. In 2013, many places in California set all-time low precipitation records, with very little measurable rain falling across much of the state from January 2013 into mid-February 2014. San Francisco nearly halved its previous annual record low in 2013, receiving only 5.59 inches compared to a normal of 23.65. The 2012–13 and 2013–14 winter snowpacks were among the lowest recorded in the last 100 years. In January 2014, the state cut allocations from its State Water Project to zero percent (revised upwards to five percent in April), a record low, as reservoirs dropped to critical levels. [68] Municipal districts in the northern and central parts of the state, including the capital, Sacramento, enacted water rationing while over half a million acres (2000 km 2 ) of Central Valley farmland were fallowed. In 2015, wildfires burned over 7 million acres, primarily in the western U.S. and Alaska, which is approaching the all-time national record. [69] [70]

In 2011 intense drought struck much of Texas, New Mexico and a large portion of the Southwest bringing much of the region its worst drought seen since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Most of the drought in Texas ended or had it impacts ease by spring and summer 2012 as precipitation returned to the region, while the New Mexican drought continued unbroken into 2014. The Texas and Southwest U.S. drought was also accompanied by a severe heat wave that brought record setting heat to much of Texas, including but not limited to bringing a 40-day stretch of temperatures at or above 100 °F (38 °C) to Dallas, Texas. Drought of severe magnitude also affected a large portion of the Southeastern US, especially Georgia and South Carolina. It is believed that a combination of La Niña and climate change had contributed to the intense drought.

In 2012, much of the U.S. had drought conditions develop through the late winter and spring months and lasting into the summer, creating the 2012 North American drought. Meanwhile, severe to extreme drought developed in the lower Midwest and Ohio Valley as well as the southern and central Rockies. This led to large wildfires in Colorado including the record setting Waldo Canyon fire, the most destructive in Colorado history. Drought conditions have led to numerous firework show cancellations and voluntary water restrictions in much of the Ozarks, Mid-Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. Lagging effects of La Niña, climate change, and also a large persistent upper level ridge of high pressure present over much of North America since the late winter have all contributed to the drought and above average temperatures since February 2012. This further lead to the vicious cycle of reduced evaporation and decreased rainfall all through the spring of 2012. While the summer of 2011 was the second-warmest (74.5 °F (23.6 °C)) in U.S. history after the Dust Bowl era of 1936 74.6 °F (23.7 °C) the summer of 2012 was the third-warmest at (74.4 °F (23.6 °C)). This intense heat wave contributed to the intensification of the drought particularly over the Midwest and the Northern Plains. [ citation needed ] Because the drought conditions were forcing American farmers to sell off livestock, the Department of Defense sought to buy up meat at "fire sale" prices in order to stockpile meals for the lean times ahead. [71]

High wheat prices caused by the drought have discouraged farmers from investing in alternative drought-tolerant crops. [72]

The United States Drought Monitor observed “extreme drought” conditions in much of the eastern half of Massachusetts, southeastern New Hampshire and the southern part of Maine in September 2016. [73]

In summer 2016, severe drought affected the temperate New England and New York area, including a Massachusetts and New York drought that persisted into the fall. [74] While not as severe as other major, more well-known droughts in the south and west where the climate is semi-arid, it was among the most severe for the northeastern region. In 2020 drought slowly spread through the United States including once again in the Northeast. Though not as severe in intensity as the Texas and California drought of the 2000s.

2019 Edit

Hydrologist Royce Fontenot said the impact of drought will linger according to the La Niña pattern. [75]

2020s Edit

Beginning in summer 2020, [76] drought was widespread in the Dakotas, [77] New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Iowa, [78] Nebraska, Kansas, parts of Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota.