A drought simply defined, is a reduced amount (or lack of) precipitation for an extended period of time (usually for a least one season) that results in a shortage of water. The water supply may become depleted on the surface, underground, or both, and the shortage is usually compounded by the demand that the population places on the existing supply. These conditions may result in damage to crops and livestock that cause a lower than average yield. Because the water levels drop slowly and over an extended period of time, droughts are difficult to predict and many times experts can only look at drought facts from the past and keep a close record of precipitation levels and weather patterns. Because so many of the variables involved are constantly changing, it makes it harder to prepare for a drought than some other types of disasters.
It is difficult to pinpoint where these natural disasters will happen because drought can happen anywhere. In any given year at least one part of the United States will experience drought conditions to some extent. One portion of the country that experiences droughts more often than others is the Great Plains. The Great Plains are a large area of flat land with much of it being covered in steppe, prairie, and grassland. It covers an east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River in North America. In the United States it covers at least some portion of many states.
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Many of these areas are regions of agriculture and ranching, so the occurrence of a drought can have far reaching effects on the economy.
Some of the worst droughts in U.S. history occurred during the 1930’s and the 1950’s. These were known as the “Dust Bowl” years and they led to significant social changes as well as economic damage. There are many drought facts available for this time and some of them are quite surprising. During the drought years the Plains States were menaced by “black blizzards”. These were massive dust storms brought on by the dry condition and the fact that much of the natural grasses that anchored the soil in place had been plowed over to make way for wheat crops. Because of this, many people consider the dust bowl to have been as much a man-made disaster as it was a natural one.
The drought and consequential erosion caused by the Dust Bowl affected 100 million acres of land that centered in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas but also touched sections of Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico.
At times the dust storms carried so much static electricity that motorists would secure chains to the rear of their vehicle to ground it.
One massive dust storm was so large and powerful that it actually reached the east coast before subsiding. For a period of around 5 hours the cloud of prairie dirt surrounded landmarks such as the U.S. Capitol and the Stature of Liberty.
The drought that covered much of North America in 2012 is compared by some to the dustbowl years. The dry conditions led to wildfires and loss of crops and grazing land in the Midwest. This forced many farmers to sell off livestock earlier than normal. While some areas of the country are more prone to drought conditions than others, a drought can occur anytime and anywhere is the world.
How to Prepare For Drought
One of the best ways to prepare for drought is to conserve water. If you make habit of conserving water whenever possible, then if a drought occurs it won’t seem so different. During drought situations many communities place restrictions on such things as watering your lawn and washing cars, but there are many other ways to conserve water around the home. There are also some things that you do that will help you survive in a situation where water is at a premium.
- Make conserving water a part of your daily lifestyle. This will make it easier if you are in a situation where water is rationed and it will make the water that you do have last longer. Simple things like fixing faucet leaks and installing low usage showerheads can make a big difference.
- Purchase or build a water collection and storage system. A small amount of rain may not end the drought, but it can give you some water for everyday use. There are many types of systems available and they usually aren’t expensive. Collecting rainwater for watering gardens and other plants is a great way to conserve water even when there isn’t a drought.
- Keep 7 day supply of bottled water on hand at all times. Whether it a drought or some other natural disaster, water is the most important supply that you can have. A 7 day supply will equal about 1 gallon of drinking water per person per day.
- Stock up on food supplies, especially canned and dried goods. While there may not be an actual food shortage during a drought, facts show that the prices will almost certainly go up. Buy some extra canned goods each week and watch for sale prices on bulk dried goods. These things are very handy to have in any type of emergency situation.
- Learn some water gathering techniques. If you live in a city this may not come into play as much, but in rural areas it can be helpful. Many people in arid and semi-arid climates have adapted by learning how to gather water from unlikely places. In a survival situation this knowledge could literally be a life saver.
- Have a good water filter or water purification tablets. These are good items to have in any type of disaster kit because even if there is plenty of water available, it may not be fit to drink. In a drought situation collecting water won’t help if you can’t drink it.
If you live in a rural area of the country, wildfires are always a threat during dry periods. One good way to ensure the safety of your home as you prepare for drought is to make sure that there is an area around your home that is clear of brush and debris. Always adhere to the restrictions placed on burning and fireworks as well as the water restrictions. It may not seem like the few extra gallons that you use for a long shower will make any difference, but if several hundred people feel the same way it will make a huge difference. As you go through the trying time, the best thing that you can do is to learn from it. Make notes of things that you can add to your supplies and things that could be done differently in the future.
After the drought has ended you should take stock of the things that you needed and didn’t have as well as the things that were not as useful as you thought they would be. As with anything in life, hardship can be a learning experience if nothing else. If you put your knowledge to use, any future emergencies can perhaps be a little less stressful on everyone involved. Some communities have organizations that get together in order to gather drought facts and come up with ideas that will help the entire community better prepare for drought in the future. No one can predict the future or control the weather, but with a little preparation as well as day to day conservation, enduring a period of drought can be survived in relative comfort.