• U.S.

CATASTROPHE: No Green Pastures

6 minute read

Over the central section of North America there hung for weeks a blanket of clear hot dry air under high atmospheric pressure. Because air moves from high to low pressure areas, rainladen breezes from the two oceans were unable to penetrate beyond the rim of the U. S. The sun beat down through cloudless skies to blister the earth. Under normal circumstances low pressure areas known as “cyclonic storms” (not necessarily of “cyclonic” velocity and violence) swing periodically across the land from west to east, sucking in and mixing hot and cold winds, producing rain. This year such beneficent disturbances did not cease, but they apparently moved northward from their normal track to the Hudson’s Bay area of Canada where plenty of rain has fallen. Why these cyclonic storms shifted north no man knows for sure. One guess is that an interrelation exists between the moon’s long-range variations and its consequent effect on tides, ocean temperatures and climate. Weather men knew last week that not until the atmospheric stagnation over the U. S. should be dissipated by the unknown combination of forces that regulate all weather, would the worst drought in U. S. meteorological history be broken.

Beneath a brazier sun green pastures, fresh corn lands, lush gardens from Virginia to Kansas turned brown and sere. The Potomac, Ohio and Mississippi rivers dwindled to a sluggish standstill. Corn wilted away on stunted stalks. Grass shrivelled up before it could be hayed. Live stock, famished for feed and water, was hustled to slaughter before it died. Fruit and truck rotted. Catastrophe was upon a million farm families.

Washington last week took recognizance of the drought, then nearly two months old. President Hoover recalled Secretary of Agriculture Hyde from a western trip, announced that the Federal Government would “leave no stone unturned” to give assistance to stricken husbandmen. With experienced directness the President took charge personally. Rapidly assembled at his order were Department of Agriculture reports by field agents on the exact location and degree of drought damage. Hardest hit apparently were Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia. Montana, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska. President Hoover summoned the governors of these twelve states to a White House conference this week to devise specific plans for relief. Chairman Legge of the Federal Farm Board prepared to fly back from his “crusade” in Idaho to Washington to attend this meeting. Ohio’s crop loss was estimated at $200,000,000, Kentucky’s at $100,000,000, Missouri’s $115,000,000. Husbandmen, despairing of carrying their stock through the winter without fodder, were selling their cattle at ruinous losses.

To save this live stock was the U. S. Government’s first concern. The Interstate Commerce Commission authorized railroads to reduce freight rates so that stock might be shipped out of the drought area, forage shipped in. The Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania immediately halved their hay rates. The Chamber of Commerce of Macon, Ga. offered to pasture several thousand head of cattle free of charge. The Federal Farm Board drew up plans whereby it would loan money for stock feed to specially organized cooperatives in drought-stricken areas. The Army ordered out all its water wagons at the Jeffersonville. Ind. quartermaster depot, to haul water for the civil population.

On the Chicago Board of Trade, corn was whirled up to above $1 per bu. in excited trading at the prospect of a crop shortage, with wheat moving up in sympathy. Within a month the drought had enhanced the market value of the U. S. grain crop $650,000,000. Secretary Hyde estimated that the corn crop would be cut by the weather some 500,000,000 bu. to a total yield of about 2,300,000,000 bu.. smallest yield since 1921. Both Secretary Hyde and Chairman Legge openly advised stockmen to feed wheat to their cattle and hogs instead of expensive corn. When corn sells at $1, wheat as fodder is worth $1.12. Wheat men began to rejoice at the prospect of reducing their surplus in this fashion. Secretary Hyde cut them short: “I don’t share the feeling that this terrible drought is a blessing to agriculture, in disguise or any guise. . . . The ruin of thousands of farmers does not appeal to me as a desirable thing, no matter what economic results it may have in clearing away the accumulated surpluses.”

Desperately scanning weather maps for signs of a general rain wasDr. Joseph Burton Kincer, chief of agricultural meteorology, at the U. S. Weather Bureau. He explained that east of the Rocky Mountains the drought had been in progress from three to nine months, that spring rainfalls had been 50% below normal, that July was the dryest month in recent weather history. Said he: ‘I don’t like calling this a catastrophe but I don’t like to think what may happen if the drought isn’t broken in the next two weeks. The outlook isn’t promising/’

In many localities aridity produced freak results:

¶Moonshiners in Pennsylvania and Kentucky had to shut down their stills for lack of water to cool condensers.

¶The water supply was partially shut off at the West Orange, N. J., laboratories of Thomas Alva Edison.

¶Army engineers made great progress with flood works as the Mississippi fell to its lowest level in 70 years.

¶Kentucky blue grass turned, yellow & white.

¶New York City milk prices rose 1¢ per quart; fresh vegetables went up 10%.

¶The U. S. Bureau of Fisheries went early to the rescue of fish (see p. 32).

¶Gettysburg, Pa. officially prohibited Monday wash day.

¶Corn popped in the fields of Texas. Apples were partially baked on the trees in Kansas and Pennsylvania.

¶Two hundred Ohio farmers whose crops had failed marched upon the Wilmington court house, received work on the roads.

¶The Alexandria, Va. Chamber of Commerce ordered from New Mexico 200 lb. of a chemical to make rain when sprayed on clouds from an airplane. Meteorologists said their “rain powder” would be about as effective as salt on a bird’s tail.

¶Grasshoppers, starved for other food, fell upon and devoured orchids in a St. Louis greenhouse.

¶When his private 100,000,000-gal. reservoir at Pocantico Hills, N. Y. went almost dry, John Davison Rockefeller got permission to tap the Tarrytown water supply.

¶Mrs. Herbert Hoover’s flower garden at the RapidanCamp shrivelled and died.

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