ASSOCIATED PRESSA large dust storm rolls across downtown Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday evening July 5, 2011. The massive dust storm reduced visibility and delayed flights as strong winds toppled trees and caused power outages for thousands of residents in the valley. A number of sizable dust storms, ongoing drought and intense heat this past summer have many wondering if another Dust Bowl is in the works.
The Dust Bowl Era was a series of drought years spanning the early and middle 1930s, which was made worse by wind storms that blew away a large amount of topsoil on the Great Plains.
The most recent dust storm in Lubbock, Texas, along with other large storms near Tucson, Ariz. in early October and the haboobs in Phoenix during July, to name a few, certainly are signs of the times.
Much of the region has been in the throws of a drought since last fall. Phoenix only receives an average of 8.50 inches of rain per year. However, as dry is the place normally is, only 4.50 inches of rain has fallen since October 1, 2010.
Lubbock has received only about 30 percent of their normal rainfall since Oct. 1, 2010, which is a mere 6 inches or so, compared to a normal of 20.50 inches.
The AccuWeather.com and the National Weather Service winter forecast outlooks are not good for the region in terms of rainfall. Both are projecting below-normal precipitation in a nutshell from Arizona eastward to Texas and northward into the southern Plains.
Two rainfall prospects over the next week seem to be drying up before they even arrive.
However, Expert Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler points out that it may not be quite as dry as last winter in the region.
"The indication is that while a La Nina is in the making, it may not be as strong, nor as long lasting, as last year," Mohler said.
That could mean a few attempts at rain for the region. Rain was nearly non-existent in much of the area last winter.
This winter, there will be storms that pass north of the southern Plains and Southwest, which periodically kick up wind and dust. These episodes can lead to brief low visibility for ground travel and will raise the risk of the spread of wildfires.
However, even if these storms bring little or no rain to the region, we should not see the vast expanse of the 1930s dust storms returning.
Moisture will be plentiful over the central and northern Plains this winter. In fact, much of the northern Plains is forecast to have harsh cold, rather than unusual warmth.
Modern agricultural techniques in southern areas such as irrigation and cover crops mitigate the loss of water due to evaporation and the loss of soil due to wind.