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Mud Is Good

Written by Dennis Sun

As I wrote this column early last week, we’ve had rain on Monday, followed by snow. We just hope it doesn’t get too cold or last too long. I know it gets old quick, but mud is good – just not the frozen type. As I thought about the mud and softer post holes to dig, I scanned an article about the mega-drought that some are predicting for Texas and parts of the Southwest and West. 

A recent study led by NASA scientists found a substantial likelihood for a decades-long drought later in the 21st century. Scientists can tell when earlier droughts occurred by examining tree rings or stumps in the American West. They say 1,000-year-old trees are easy to find, and the University of Wyoming found many a few years ago surrounding the Bighorn Basin. But finding 3,000- to 4,000-year-old trees is exceptionally rare. 

Despite the lack of trees, fossilized dunes have given evidence of a giant, dusty desert between Texas and Canada. We still have a number of sand dunes here in Wyoming. The study’s scientists say that the drought records from the 12th and 13th centuries were not necessarily more severe than our common dry spells, but they lasted a lot longer, up to 40 years. 

Now comes the catch. The scientists are using climate change influenced by humans and increased greenhouse gasses. If you don’t believe in all of that, don’t throw away your muck boots or overshoes.

The study also says that the rising temperatures of the earth lately will favor longer, more severe droughts that will happen even in those areas of the West and Central Plains that may actually see more, not less, winter rain and snow in the future. 

“This is an amazing result,” said David Stahle, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arkansas. “The precipitation is not so dire. It is the escalation in temperature that is driving the model simulations toward dramatic aridity.”

Stahle was not involved in the study.

Records show that last year was the second warmest in the 1880-2015 record. The Arctic lost ice, but the Antarctic Sea ice grew. According to data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the northern hemisphere snow cover extent this past January was 170,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average. This was the 22nd largest January northern hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record. To find that data, all you have to do was call someone in Boston. 

The part in all of this that I think is controversial is that the study is using climate models similar to the ones weather forecaster’s use every day to predict the path of a storm. However, they have added climate change due to greenhouse gasses and human activity. I realize there is climate change. Climate change has been happening since God rested on the seventh day. To the extent that humans have impacted that process still seems to be up in the air.

 So here I am, looking out at close to a foot of snow and writing about drought. I’ve got to give one of them up for Lent.