Climatic Change

, Volume 116, Issue 3–4, pp 479–494 | Cite as

Historical perspective on the dust bowl drought in the central United States

  • Dorian J. Burnette
  • David W. Stahle


Three new 159-year long reconstructions of spring, summer, and growing season precipitation totals were developed for northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri from five station clusters (Lawrence, Leavenworth, and Manhattan, Kansas; Miami and Oregon, Missouri). Nonstandard observation practices are inherent in the early meteorological data, which can induce an undercount in precipitation measurements, particularly during the cool season. Threshold analyses of these five station clusters indicated undercount can be lessened for daily precipitation totals of 0.50 in. and greater during the warm season (“half-inch threshold”). Therefore, “adjusted reconstructions” of total precipitation for the spring (AMJ), summer (JA), and growing season (AMJJA) were derived using the “half-inch threshold” totals and an estimate of the missing amount between 0.00 and 0.50 in. based on an average of the modern observations at each station (or the nearest available station). The new precipitation reconstructions suggest that the most severe spring drought may have occurred during the mid-19th century, although the potential for undercount is likely highest during the spring season. The most severe summer precipitation deficit is estimated during the 1930s Dust Bowl drought, followed by the summer drought of the 1910s. When precipitation is totaled for the entire growing season, the mid-19th century and Dust Bowl droughts were of approximately equal magnitude and duration in this reconstruction. However, the integration of precipitation and temperature into seasonal measures of effective moisture, using a new 19th century temperature reconstruction for northeastern Kansas, indicates that the 1930s growing season moisture deficit was the most severe and sustained since 1855, highlighting the extraordinarily high temperatures recorded during the 1930s Dust Bowl drought.


Dust Storm Station Cluster Palmer Drought Severity Index Effective Moisture Southern Great Plain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (DDRI Grant BCS-0622894 and ATM-0753399). We thank the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia for their assistance with the Amos H. Sullivan papers, Cary Mock for valuable comments throughout this research project, and Ed Cook for very helpful advice on the calculation of effective moisture.

Supplementary material

10584_2012_525_MOESM1_ESM.doc (256 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 256 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of MemphisMemphisUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA

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