The Rain in USA Falls Rarely on the Plain

An amusing conclusion to today's "Today's Papers":

Finally, the NYT reefers a big piece on arid conditions in the Great Plains, which have left "farmers and ranchers with conditions that they compare to those of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's." It's the worst drought since … well, maybe 2003, "an extremely dry summer that … brought back memories of the 1930's Dust Bowl" (NYT, Sept. 5, 2003). Or maybe 2002, when "farmers shrug[ed] and wonder[ed] if a new Dust Bowl [would] soon be upon them" (NYT, May 3, 2002). Or 1998: "a dry spell that officials say shows signs of developing into the costliest and most devastating the region has seen since the Dust Bowl years" (NYT, Aug. 12, 1998). Or 1996: "Coming after two years of low rainfall and a number of other weather problems, the ferocity of this year's drought has slowly begun to evoke memories for some here of the Depression-era Dust Bowl" (NYT, May 20, 1996). Or 1988: "Since the spring's dry weather evolved into the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, the farm policy has been turned upside down" (NYT, July 10, 1988). Or 1982: "And when the winds come, turning the sky dark with dust and burying fence rows under shifting dunes of soil and thistle, those who are old enough remember the bleak days of the Dust Bowl." (NYT, May 14, 1982). Or 1980: "Is the nation in for a new Dust Bowl or at least a succession of scorching summers?" (NYT, July 17, 1980).

The thing of it is that before some clever rebranding, the area we currently know as the "Great Plains" was called "The Great American Desert." It's not genuinely a desert, but it really is quite dry. And, of course, an area that's dry-ish most of the time is going to be subject to frequent droughts. Many Native American practiced agriculture, but the ones who lived on the plains/deserts generally didn't and this was not a coincidence. The local climate has its ups and downs, but it's a fundamentally marginal area that already stays viable mostly because of federal protections for domestic agriculture products. It seems a bit perverse to just encourage the empty-ish part of the country to get emptier at a time when housing is becoming increasingly expensive, but it got empty-ish out there for a reason. Before it was flyover country, that's the part of the country you would try and pass through in a covered wagon before reaching the more promising terrain in Oregon.