The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration confirmed that the record-breaking warmth in July was part of the warmest 12-month period experienced by the lower 48 states since the 19th century. In fact, this past July was the hottest month on record for the continental states since such record keeping started in 1895. Additionally, the drought conditions caused by the heat has expanded to cover 63% of the continental United States (

Now we are witnessing some unexpected effects of this year’s hot weather. First of note is a major bear problem across the country. As a consequence of lack of availability of their normal diets of greens and berries because of failed production, bears are out in record numbers seeking food by rummaging through garbage, ripping through screens on houses and even crawling into cars in search of food. Problems with bears invading human space have been noted all over the country. Fortunately, no injuries to humans have been cited. The bear problem also could further hurt farmers, who already have been negatively impacted by the harsh drought conditions, especially corn farmers. As the hot weather has negatively affected the availability of acorns and beechnuts, on which bears typically rely, these animals now are forced to fatten up on corn. In some states, such as Vermont, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that farmers bring in their corn crops as soon as possible.

A second adverse effect of harsh summer weather is poor air quality and its resultant increases in heat-related illnesses. Heat waves lead to heat strokes and dehydration, representing the most common cause of weather-related deaths. Warmer temperatures in urban centers place an increase demand for electricity, which in turn results in increased air pollution and greenhouse emissions from power plants. Extreme heat conditions trigger severe storms that threaten human life and health in numerous ways, including, but not limited to:
• Reduction of available fresh food and water;
• Interruption of communication, utility and healthcare services;
• Contribution of carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of portable generators during storms;
• Increases stomach and intestinal illnesses among evacuees;
• Contribution to mental health problems, such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Thirdly, the economic impact of harsh summer weather causes overwhelming energy demands resulting in brownouts and blackouts that threaten business operations and daily lives of citizens. Sea level rise and frequent intense storms disrupt energy production and delivery. Extreme heat negatively affects travel and tourism with the loss income completely destroying seasonal businesses that totally rely on the summer months for their survival.

While these excruciating hot summers may represent an inconvenience to some people, the reality is that severe heat and drought conditions threaten our very existence. As scientists work to find solutions to these problems, we all need to be mindful of the steps we can take to reduce our environmental footprints. In other words, let’s strive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Let’s live green, be green.

Farmers face huge loss in corn production as a result of drought conditions.

We all are aware of the breaking environmental news regarding current drought conditions in the United States.  Presently, more than half of the United States is suffering from the worst drought conditions since the Dust Bowls, the last of which occurred 50 years ago.  We are witnessing wilted crops, particularly corn, dried-out, cracked soil and devastating forest fires caused by parched woodlands.  It is important to note that the current drought levels have not reached those of the Dust Bowl where 63% of the country experienced severe drought; however, today’s statistics do place this occurrence in the top 10% for the past century. 

Comparisons of statistics for severe droughts in the 1930’s and 1950s have resulted in some assumptions, especially by some politicians and talking heads that the current drought is not caused by global warming.  One such argument notes that carbon emissions were lower in the 30s than they are today, so the problem must have been due to some other natural occurrence.  Tree-ring data often have been cited to suggest that North American droughts are part of a natural cycle tied to La Nina events.  Environmental scientists now are compiling compelling evidence that rising temperatures are making droughts more common, and this phenomenon is less likely attributable to natural causes. 

The primary focus now must be on measures to address the problems of climate change.  John Antler of Montana State University has published a paper, which proposes that the government shift policies to adapt to climate change, i.e., providing subsidies for crops such as corn and soy to prevent adaptation by locking in current farming patterns. (  Tom Philpott recommends a stronger push towards organic farming.  Recent research concludes that while organic farming yields smaller crop production, the organic farming process holds retains more water and performs better during droughts (

Currently, the United States has not been impacted as severely as many other nations by drought and destruction of food supply.  However, we see the effects of droughts in terms of increasing prices for food and increasing disasters, such as forest fires and parched land.  Droughts are becoming difficult to avoid, and steps must be taken immediately to protect our land, population and food sources.  Our very existence depends on this.  To save our world, let’s live green, be green.



The Palmer Drought Severity Index mid-century.  A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought.  (Source:  National Center for Atmospheric Research).