God speed the plow.... By this wonderful provision, which is only man's mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains ... [the plow] is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts a desert into a farm or garden.... To be more concise, Rain follows the plow.
--Charles Dana Wilber
--Charles Dana Wilber
Since this blog bounces between bicycling for fun to more serious issues such as transportation, health, and climate, I thought I would toss this out in the interest of sustainability issues.
Yesterday the Albuquerque Journal said that "Drought Returns to New Mexico". I would argue it never left. Drought has various definitions and understandings and can be defined on different time scales depending on one's frame of reference (agriculture, climatology, ecology, etc.); it generally means "golly, we are getting less moisture than we have come to expect based on our limited experiences". I tend to think of it in climate cycles, because climate tells us what variations we can expect. As civilizations, we have to manage our societies in light of that expectation. Rain does not follow the plow.
That said, there may be a modern variation to that theme of rain vs. plow that has a lot of credibility: climate change follows the smokestack.
So in the interest of trying to understand what is going on lately as far as that wet stuff that falls from the sky, here are two graphs from a John Fleck article in a 2012 issue of the Albuquerque Journal. Just looking at a century, there appear to be both short (a few years) and longer term (about half a century) cycles. This is not meant as a prediction or alarm bell, but two things. We can, of course, expect short term El Nino/La Nina/ENSO cycles that mean snowpack/rainfall differences on the year to year basis. We can also expect, if this trend is not an aberration (see tree ring data below), longer term cyclicity in water feast and famine due to physical processes such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and other processes, sometimes coupled or that may be teleconnected, such as the PDO and AMO. Note also that if winter precipitation decreases while temperatures increase, this is a double whammy. Snowpack may not last as long due to increased early melting and sublimation. We may see higher transpiration rates in trees that may not be sustainable. Plus, insects such as bark beetles may rev their biological engines faster.
I guess its "ask a climatologist" time. Indeed, climatologists have been studying the underlying causes of "drought" cycles in the US Southwest. Some examples here, here, here, here, and here.
(Related story: AGU: Stored Heat Released From (Pacific) Ocean Largely Responsible for Recent Streak of Record Hot Years)
Here is that century long record of precipitation and temperature variation in New Mexico, from John Fleck's 2012 article.
Another way to look at precipitation cyclicity. Elephant Butte Lake levels, ~1910-2015, from John Fleck's blog.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Pretty similar to the Elephant Butte Lake graph, eh?
Finally, a long term tree ring record based model of precipitation in NW New Mexico, showing century duration cycles, from the International Tree Ring Data Bank.