The extreme 2012 Central Great Plains drought was more intense than the Dust Bowl era droughts of the 1930s, according to a new federal assessment of the origins and predictability of the drought, released on Thursday. The team of 19 atmospheric scientists, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), found that global warming may have played a relatively small contributing role by helping to make the drought slightly warmer, and hence drier, than it otherwise might have been.
The biggest "proximate cause" of the drought remains unidentified, the report found, and it was most likely the result of random natural weather and climate variability.
The period of May through August 2012 was the driest such period in the Central Great Plains since 1895, eclipsing the records set during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, the report found. The drought caused the largest single-year loss in corn production since 1866, and the full economic impact of the drought, which in many areas is still ongoing, has not been tallied yet, but is likely to be greater than $12 billion.