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...no rain in sight.” — Wayne Hutchison, 1953


Following a relatively “wet” spring and summer in 2010, much of the Sorghum Belt has found itself in a serious drought in 2011 with litt le to no moisture since last fall.


“Last year and 2011 are very much the same story as 1951 and 1953,” said John, who was six years old when the sor- ghum harvest photograph was taken. “One year, you have good rains and good prices, and the next you have com- plete failure of dryland crops.”


The pages of Hutchison’s journal in 1953 have a diff erent tone than his previous entries two years before as he talks about his crop situation. The relentless heat and drought began to take a toll.


May 8, 1953 – Hot winds and dry. 92 degrees yesterday and no rain in sight. Wheat going out fast now.


May 9, 1953 – 30-40 mph winds. Lots of dust. Hot.


May 26, 1953 – Been 100 or more degrees for four days now and no relief in sight.


June 23, 1953 – Quit cutt ing wheat. Not making enough to be worth it. Hot winds and 108 degrees.


June 26, 1953 – Cut 30 acres of wheat on section 10. Made about a bushel and a half. That is about all I got on that section this year.


July 1, 1953 – June was driest and hott est month ever on record.


The only things sold off the Hutchison’s farm in 1953 were chickens and eggs.


Six decades later, farmers in the Great Plains and southwestern U.S. are, again, enduring a bru- tal drought and record heat, reminiscent of the drought of the 1950s, which is now referred to as the “drought of record.”


From 1950 until 1957, low rainfall and prolonged, high temperatures put a stranglehold on Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas rainfall dropped 40 percent between 1941 and 1951, and by 1953, 75 percent of the state recorded below normal rainfall amounts.


SORGHUM Grower Fall 2011 9


Kansas also experienced severe drought conditions during the 1950s, recording a negative Palmer Drought Severity Index from 1952 until March 1957. Kansas reached a record rainfall low in September 1956. Crop yields in some areas dropped as much as 50 percent.


Farmers in present day Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are hoping history will not repeat itself as the current drought stretches into another year.


John Lipe, service hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Lubbock, Texas, said the last La Niña patt ern in 2010/2011 left the region with a dry winter and early spring. Meanwhile, a stubborn jet stream caused excessive severe weather and fl ooding in other parts of the country, leaving the Southwest with very hot, dry and windy conditions.


“After missing our normal thunderstorm season, the dry- ness over a very large region worked to allow temperatures to start rising well above climatological averages,” Lipes said. “In a sense, the drought helped contribute to us hav- ing our hott est summer on record.”


Lipes said there are some indications the current La Niña patt ern may strengthen this fall, but forecasters are currently not expecting as strong of an episode as we saw last winter. Of course, there are many factors that can come into play when we look at long term weather forecasts.


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