Extreme Bitter Cold — to Unprecedented Devastating Drought

I have to say, I really don’t like the way this winter has been shaping-up.  Especially in terms of what it means, and what it will mean, for these fledgling trout in SE Oregon . . .

As Michael Snyder of American Dream wrote last week: “The worst drought in the history of California is happening right now.”

” . . . 2013 was the driest year ever recorded in the state of California . . . the driest January that the state of California has ever experienced . . . The worst drought in the history of California is happening right now.”

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This fragile little stream in the SE Oregon desert is just a hop skip and jump from California and is in the “eye of the storm” (drought) that has affected the American west.

In recent years, we’ve seen searing summer temperatures with extremely low water and extremely low oxygen levels.  With moss and natural stream-side vegetation die-offs, it is almost certain it is a foregone conclusion this will be an egregious summer for these trout.

. . . Not that this is necessarily a positive . . . but it may be, that with the diminutive snow in the region, we may be able to visit the region earlier in the spring than we normally can . . . and we plan to, if we are able to do so, to provide photographic documentation of the creek.

International Business Times reports that “In 2013, California received an average of just over 4 inches of rain.  Downtown LA, which receives nearly 15 inches (in) a normal year, only got 3.6 inches . . . (it’s) California’s driest period since it was granted statehood in 1850  . . . shrinking reservoirs . . . record-breaking low flows in several rivers and streams.”

The concern expressed by B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary science and geography is that “This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years.”

All we can say, with concern, is that “time will tell.”  We soberly look toward this summer, and we earnestly hope that the fragile remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout will find a way to survive through these exigent times.

They may require mankind’s assistance to survive into tomorrow, from this precarious refugium that they were, by many indications, transplanted to before their extinction.

© Kortum of Discovery, January 2014

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Though we are still hoping that things will turn for the better, and that the snow-pack and water table will be fed for this coming year, below is a brief summary of historical drought in the US from Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer of LiveScience.Com

The Worst Droughts in U.S. History

Also known as the “Dirty Thirties,” the Dust Bowl period was the most destructive drought the United States has ever faced. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at least 50,000,000 acres of land were affected. Poor soil management practices made matters worse; without native prairie grasses or cover crops to keep soil in place, the Great Plains quite literally turned to dust and blew away in enormous dust storms dubbed “black rollers” or “black blizzards.”

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From 1950 to 1956, drought plagued the Great Plains and Southwest. Temperatures were hot and rain was scarce. In Texas, rainfall decreased by 40 percent between 1949 and 1951, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). In some places, crop yields fell by half.

Reed Eichelberger, of the San Jacinto River Authority in Texas recollects: “Probably the event that made the biggest impression on me was the need to haul water from a community well in [nearby] China Spring that was still producing water,” Eichelberger told TWRL. “Graddad’s dug well had gone dry, and we would go to town in his pickup with empty milk cans in the back and haul water back to the farm for not only cattle, but domestic use too. … With water so precious, Mom would prepare a big wash tub with water for us kids to bathe in; all using the same bath water.”

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Among the short-term droughts between the 1950’s dry period and today was a widespread period of drought between 1962 and 1966 that hit much of the Northeastern United States. This Northeastern drought actually occurred in a period when temperatures were lower than average, but the rain disappeared. With precipitation at abnormal lows, water conservation kicked into gear in New York City, journalist Robert Cantwell reported in August 1965 in Sports Illustrated Magazine.

“[B]y this summer it was not surprising that a blimp bearing the ominous sign SAVE WATER was cruising over the otherwise cloudless skies about New York; that the city restaurants did not serve water unless patrons specifically asked for it; that fountains were turned off,” Cantwell wrote. 

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The drought of 1987 to 1989 affected only 36 percent of the United States, but it managed to become the costliest drought in U.S. history. Estimates for the cost were pegged at $39 billion, according to the NCDC.  The impact was worst in the northern Great Plains, though the West Coast and Northwest were also hit.  Most memorably, perhaps, were the forest fires that accompanied the drought. In 1988, 793,880 acres of Yellowstone National Park burned, prompting the first complete closure of the park in history. 

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Scientists and historians are calling the current dry spell the worst drought since the 1950’s.  More than 60 percent of the continental United States is in drought conditions, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a disaster area in more than 1,000 counties countrywide. The current drought is a “flash drought,” so named because the time frame has been on the scale of weeks to months, rather than years.  A relatively dry winter combined with record heat in June and July has made moisture a rare site in many parts of the country. 

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About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
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