Climate change, 1930s-style

Climate change, 1930s-style

Climate change, 1930s-style

I found this article in a scrapbook that contained hundreds of newspaper clippings documenting the early efforts to secure approval and funding for the construction of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydropower and irrigation project.  The clippings were taken from the Elwood Bulletin, but this particular article was written by D.E. Lawrence of the Lincoln Star.  It was dated Sept. 14, 1933, but what attracted my attention was the headline: “Believe Climatic Change, Despite Scientists’ Opinion.”

There you have it, climate change occurring more than 80 years ago!

The article or column (one might call it an “op-ed”) contains a description of the weather, various cloud formations, memories of past weather events, and speculation about why the weather patterns of the day differed so much from the past.  I found it highly entertaining and thought to myself, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Keep in mind that the column was written a year before the beginning of a period that produced what would become known as the “Dust Bowl” in the High Plains, a period of drought which – according to most historical accounts – began in 1934.

It is reproduced below, exactly as it was worded in the original.

“During the formal public works hearing before the Nebraska advisory board in Lincoln, when the Tri-County irrigation project was being given its preliminary presentation, one of the pioneer farmers of Gosper county told of the transformation that has taken place in cloud formation and rainfall.

“He started farming in the early (18)’80s.

“He recalled in those years when the thunder heads gathered into a majestic bank in the northwest, and sweeping down over Nebraska opened the floodgates.  Such a storm soaked the grass roots.  Usually, it began in the early evening, continuing on thru the night, and sometimes lasting as long as all the next day.

“There is not a long time resident of this state, who will not recall them.  Eventually, they terminated long periods of drouth, when a blistering sun had burned ranges and pastures, and fields until they resembled the brown of dead winter.  And in the morning, a state awakening after the storm had pounded on the roofs all night, discovered that nature had winnowed the dead grass into neat piles, and the prairies, which twenty-four hours before had seemed lifeless, had a tinge of green.  It brought a feeling of gladness which only the Nebraskans of that day can appreciate.  Frequently it come too late to save crops, but it cleared the air, washed the landscape, made life worth living once again, and generally was followed by such a period of golden sunshine that the sheer joy of the thing blotted out the recollections of disappointment and anxiety.

“A good many men have asked what became of the old fashioned thunder head banks which were a distinct and awesome spectacle belonging solely to plains country.  The weather man has insisted there is no change of real consequence in climatic conditions, that in reality periods of heavy precipitation and of drought follow in cycles.  It may be true so far as the gauge and the records reveal, but the magnificent grandeur of the old fashioned soaker, extending from one end of the state to the other, belongs to the past.

“This farmer, pleading for irrigation, mentioned rains of recent years, amounting to as much as three inches of moisture, while 50 miles away, only a sprinkle fell.  It might come down in buckets at Holdrege and pass by Hastings entirely.  The latter might be flooded, while a town in the next county failed to receive a drop of rain.  But when the old thunder bank had swept down from out of the northwest not a square foot of soil in Nebraska escaped a thorough wetting.

“The last storm of that character we can remember came in early July of 1908.  It deluged Lincoln, produced the greatest flood in the Salt creek valley since the days when the Nebraska capital was a straggling village, and lasted the whole night thru.  Early in the day, the thunder heads began gathering along the entire horizon – east, west, north and south.  They piled up, one on another, until the top most formation, great creamy mountains with black bases, seemed to meet in the center of the sky.  And then the rain began in the evening, increasing in force until hours later it seemed to come down in solid sheets.

“Webster contents himself simply by defining a thunder head as a cumulonimbus cloud.  In a bulletin of the conservation and survey division of the University of Nebraska, Mrs. Lillian S. Loveland wrote that ‘The cumulonimbus are the thunder and shower clouds which roll up in such an imposing manner and present a majestic appearance of mountainlike character.  The tops are light and fluffy, while the bases are of the dense nimbus character, from whose centers the showers of rain and hail descend.’

“The thunder head is given more exhaustive treatment in the encyclopedia.  Under the heading cumulo-nimbus, this appears:

‘Thunder clouds:  shower clouds.  Heavy masses of clouds, rising like mountains, towers or anvils, generally surrounded at the top by a veil or screen of fibrous texture, and below by nimbus-like masses of cloud.  From their base generally fall local showers of rain or snow, and sometimes hail or sleet.  The upper edges are either of cumules-like outline, and form massive summits, surrounded by delicate false cirrus-like filaments.  This last form is most common in spring showers.  The front of the thunder storm cloud sometimes shows a great arc stretching across a portion of the sky, which is uniformly lighter in color.’

“Without venturing into the technical field, unless imagination has played a trick, the Nebraska thunder head of the present day falls into the classification described as presaging a shower.  It may bring a lusty rain of local character.

“Early in the summer, the press accounts told of a movie outfit, armed with cameras, waiting for a three weeks stretch to snap pictures of huge thunder heads.  Its patience exhausted, it left in disgust, and two days later, most of the eastern section of Nebraska was visited by a strictly local rains, which were preceded by some truly magnificent thunder head formations.

“A technical construction engineer to whom the subject was broached suggested that the settlement of the prairies, notwithstanding an emphatic denial from the weather bureau, had altered the cloud formation so they no longer resembled those which belonged to the earlier history of the state.  He said that the thousands of farm homes, safeguarded with lightning rods, and the cities, had pulled the teeth of the old thunder head, until it no longer existed as it did then.  The facts hold more importance than idle speculation.  They have a direct bearing upon the future of the state, upon crops, upon farm homes.  If it is true that more and more rainfall is becoming localized, instead of being general, it is a matter in which all citizens are interested.  It may explain the unsatisfactory condition of the sub-soil moisture.  That, at least, was the view of a practical farmer, who has tilled Nebraska soil for more than fifty years.”

Hmm.  Maybe the old guy was on to something.

Jeff Buettner

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