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Images of the Day
Oklahoma Dust Storm Shuts Down The Interstate, Causes Huge Accident; What’s Up With All This Drought
October 19, 2012
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Oklahoma dust storm images courtesy AP Photo/The Ponca City News, Rolf Clements

It looks a little like the end of the world, or at least a Hollywood vision of a post-apocalyptic future.

But these images are from a real-life dust storm that kicked up in Oklahoma yesterday, shutting down the Interstate and causing a multi-car accident that injured nine people and damaged three dozen cars and tractor trailers.

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Here's raw video of the dust storm blowing across the highway:

Like a lot of states in the Midwestern U.S., Oklahoma has been suffering from very severe drought conditions recently. And the drought conditions have led to a rise in food prices around the world.

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A couple of rain storms this month have helped ease conditions in a few parts of the state, but according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 99 per cent of Oklahoma is still in the severe to exceptional drought categories.

The dry weather is causing serious trouble for farmers across the region.

Iowa is the biggest corn producer in the U.S., and 63.9 per cent of that state is still in severe or exceptional drought. Last week 95.7 per cent of Kansas was in those two categories, although rains have brought that number down to 77.8 per cent today.

The National Climatic Data Center says, "at some point during 2012, most of the counties in the country had been declared agricultural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

It's hard to see these images of drought without thinking about the Dust Bowl conditions that hit the American Midwest in the 1930s, as illustrated by this photo of Zurich, Kansas from the period.

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But filmmaker Ken Burns, whose documentary 'The Dust Bowl' will air November 18 and 19 on PBS, told an audience at the National Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. yesterday that there won't be a repeat of the Dust Bowl this time.

He added that the lessons farmers learned back then should prove useful today.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is "the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history," Burns told the crowd.

The shots below come from the Natural Resources Conservation Center. They show some of the terrible drought conditions of the '30s.

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Iowan farmer Roy Bardole also spoke at the Summit. He said one of the major lessons of the original Dust Bowl is that many American farmlands are "all desert without water."

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He suggests planting trees to improve conditions, adding that the whole ecosystem is connected: "Nothing functions in and of itself in the environment. Everything affects everything else."

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Although most experts agree that it's unlikely the Midwest will experience a return to the full-blown Dust Bowl conditions of the '30s, Oklahoma's state climatologist Gary McManus definitely drew the comparison after yesterday's storm.

"You have the perfect combination of extended drought in that area ... and we have the extremely strong winds," said McManus.

"Also, the timing is bad because a lot of those farm fields are bare. The soil is so dry, it's like powder. Basically what you have is a whole bunch of topsoil waiting for the wind to blow it away. It's no different from the 1930s than it is now."

Unfortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting more of the same over the winter, with warmer, dryer weather than usual expected for the Northwest and Upper Midwestern U.S.

One of the biggest questions about the current droughts is whether they're caused by man-made climate change.

The debate is ongoing - German company Munich Re, the world's largest re-insurer, said Wednesday that it believes man-made climate change played a role in a nearly five-fold jump in weather-related natural disasters in North America over the last 30 years, including droughts.

Not everyone agrees that man-made climate change is to blame - as Bloomberg's Alan Bjerga puts it, "there is still debate about how human activity is altering the climate" - but many farmers are adapting to the current conditions with the expectation that they'll continue in the years to come.

For instance, Kansas farmer Joe Waldman has decided to grow crops like wheat and sorgum, that require less water, rather than hoping for a return to wetter conditions.

Related:

Happy 100th Birthday To Woody Guthrie, The "Dust Bowl Troubadour"

If It's Good For The Ozone, Is It Good For the Climate?

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