Drought: The stealth disaster – Losses from 2012 drought could be greater than losses from Hurricane SandyPosted by Jim at Wednesday, September 11, 2013
By Jon Campbell
10 September 2013
(USGS) – Drought is a stealthily incremental disaster that is much more costly to the national economy than most people suspect.
Even as the eastern states have seen an unusually wet summer, citizens in the midsection of the country read in May that the High Plains Aquifer could no longer support irrigation for vast stretches of farmland in Texas and Kansas (New York Times, 5/19). In June residents of the upper Midwest read with particular interest a story of how drought and other factors have created historically low water marks for the nation’s Great Lakes, putting a $34 billion shipping industry in peril (Seattle Times, 6/15). In August, citizens of the Southwest, many of whom depend on water from the Colorado River basin, read that the low water levels of Lake Mead would be minimally recharged by a record-low annual release of water from upstream reservoir Lake Powell, the latest outcome of a 14-year drought (Las Vegas Sun, 8/15).
Landsat image collection
According to a report by the National Drought Forum, more than 65 percent of the conterminous U.S. was affected by drought in 2012. The report notes that costs associated with the 2012 drought could be greater than losses from Superstorm Sandy, which makes the 2012 drought one of the top three costliest natural disasters since 1980. Widespread drought during 2012 in Texas alone resulted in $12 billion in damages.
What sections of the Nation are currently experiencing drought? How do those conditions compare to recent years, to the past century, or to more distant centuries? How can communities better prepare for and cope with drought? These are some of the questions USGS scientists consider as they work to understand the nature of drought and how to minimize its impacts. [more]