‘Lightning drought’ is the next major climate threat in the Midwest

Sudden drought is also a global problem, with Brazil, India and several African countries facing the worst impact. Sudden drought and heat wave in Russia in 2010 Temporary suspension of wheat exportscausing major damage to Middle Eastern communities that depend on the country for food.

The damage a sudden drought can cause depends on the crop and the time of year, said Dennis Toddy, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Center. Corn is most vulnerable in the midsummer pollination season, while soybeans are affected in August and wheat in the spring planting season.

Drought is a natural part of the region’s climate, Todey said, especially in the western Corn Belt — a region that includes the Midwest and the Great Plains. Many farmers have learned to adapt to drought conditions and integrate it into their planting cycles. But what makes sudden droughts so dangerous, Toddy said, is that they happen so quickly that agricultural producers have little time to prepare.

“Most of the time a drought is considered a slow start followed by a slow stop event,” Toddy said. “In a drought-sudden environment … your surfaces don’t dry out gradually, they dry out very quickly; you have some newly planted crops that start to be stressed more quickly.”

However, many farmers do not know if they are starting to experience drought until the expected rainfall does not come. Rains in mid-October helped ease a sudden drought that began in Oklahoma in September, but the drought continued longer after that, said fourth-generation wheat and cotton farmer Keif Feltty in the state’s southwest. time. As a result, some of his crops never sprouted, and when harvested, his total yields dropped.

“There’s a lot of information out there, and you have to take advantage of what works best for you, but you also have to be prepared for it to go completely south,” Ferty said. “No one saw [the drought] Coming soon, it’s just a fact of the weather, we can’t control it. It’s just life. ”

Typical droughts can last for months or even years—the western U.S. is Currently going through its third decade Young said “megadroughts” — and sudden droughts can end faster in weeks or months. They can hit relatively wet areas, including the east of the country, where conditions are much less drier than in the west.

The main reason they are happening faster is climate change, Yang said. As the air warms, it causes more evaporation and dries out the soil. This happens even in areas where overall rainfall is expected to increase due to climate change, as scientists predict rainfall will be unevenly distributed – falling during more extreme events and making the rest of the year drier.

“Every [recent] The decade we’ve seen is the warmest decade in history,” Yang said. And with world in orbit If global temperatures are 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the pre-industrial average, he expects more frequent bursts of drought and longer droughts.

Yang said the researchers are working to improve their models to better predict sudden droughts, with the help of new technologies such as finer satellite monitoring and machine learning. The main sign they looked for was a high rate of evapotranspiration, when plants draw water from the soil and then release it into the air through leaves, a process accelerated by heat and wind, and can be detected by special cameras that detect fluorescence to monitor, or the heat emitted by plants.

If farmers can know when a sudden drought is coming, they can skip or delay planting, or reduce fertilizer use when they know the crops won’t grow, Todey said. They can also adjust planting schedules and better protect the soil by reducing tillage, which makes it drier. But with less time to prepare for a sudden drought, Tody said, some may have to make tough choices about whether to plant.

“Agricultural producers naturally adapt to changing conditions,” Toddy said. “But eventually there will be a point [losses] become more frequent. People started saying, ‘Well, this is not going to work. ‘”

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