Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Surviving a Drought - Dirt and Dust

The drought in Texas is starting to show its mean side. With day time temperatures running as high as 107 degrees and no rain, the dirt and the dust is beginning to take over things. Handling the heat is one thing but having to deal with a fine layer of dust that seems to cover everything is pretty hard.

Even keeping the windows and doors shut tight doesn’t seem to slow it down. The dust just keeps showing up in a fine layer on most everything, inside and outside. You might think that our current level of technology would have found a way to stop the dust but even in a relatively well-sealed and insulated home it’s taking a toll. The worst part is you know it’s in the air but you usually don’t notice it unless the wind is really kicking up.

Besides the obvious effects of a prolonged drought of erosion on the soil, there is also the effect on air quality. While it hasn’t reached the epic proportions of the 1930’s Dust Bowl, it’s starting to get pretty bad in the early stages of the current drought as the dust finally begins to take over as the soil erosion begins.

During the decade of the Dust Bowl years, livestock and other animals literally went blind and suffocated from the effects of the fine dust that was created. Farmers used guide ropes to go from the house to the barn because of the poor visibility. Family members even wore cloth breathing masks or used bandannas or rags to cover their mouth and nose to help prevent dust from entering their lungs. Adults and children both were inhaling and coughing up dust that was present in the air. It even created a new disease called “dust pneumonia”.

Now the current environmental conditions aren’t at the same level of the Dust Bowl years but a few precautions should be in order. By taking some simple steps ahead of time you can work to protect yourself from some of the effects that increased levels of dust in the air create.

The first thing is to protect your body when outside. Even a moderate breeze will kick up a lot of dust and proper protection should be utilized whenever possible. Wear a dust mask or keep a bandanna handy to prevent inhaling excessive amounts of dust that may be present in the air, especially if the wind starts to kick up a bit. This is an even more important practice if you have some form of breathing difficulty, such as asthma. Eye protection is important also and keeping a pair of safety goggles handy is a great way to solve this problem. Lacking a good pair of safety goggles, you can even use a pair of sunglasses at a minimum.

You can also help to protect your topsoil by doing a little extra mulching around your yard. Mrs. RW has already started putting down extra mulch around her plants to try and save as much topsoil as possible from simply being blown away.

You should also exercise some increased precautions inside your home. Modern A/C units have pretty decent air filtration systems but can be overwhelmed by extremely dusty conditions. Try changing your air filters more frequently or switch to a higher grade of filter that has a better air filtering capacity. You may also want to consider the addition of the smaller discharge vent filters to your A/C system. You will probably also want to consider keeping food items that are left out covered to prevent contamination from dust in the air.

While it hasn’t gotten so bad that you may need a shovel instead of a broom to get rid of the dust and dirt, taking a few simple precautions ahead of time is simply a prudent action on your part. During any event that could impact your health and safety, it’s always best to exercise a few preventive measures.

Got dust?

Staying above the water line!



One Fly said...

Did it green up this spring RW. I understand a lot of Kansas is ready to blow away.

Where I'm moving soon there are mounds on our property with scrub oak growing. These mounds are from the days of the Dust Bowl. It did rain .2" on Saturday afternoon.

Shreela said...

Houston isn't dusty yet, we're still in the dead grass stage (unless watered). But anyone else with dead grass/brush, please pick up any reflective items in or near your yard!

Thanks to our neighbor repeatedly ringing our bell and pounding on our door to wake us up from our nap, as well as calling the FD, we were able to put out most of our fire before the FD arrived (we've both put out fires in the past, plus it got very close to the house, so no WAY were we just goig to wait for the FD). We were having trouble putting out the part that escaped into the next field though, because our hose only reached so far, so were very glad the FD had a huge hose.

DH found an old glass bottle that was hidden under brush until the drought dried that area out enough to expose the bottle to the sun (our theory, not the FD - DH found it in the blackest area).

Since then, our neighborhood had another unexplained fire that looked bigger based on the blackened areas. It didn't have houses around, so no people to put it out, and less access to water faucets. It's a regularly traveled road to get into the neighborhood, so I guess it's possible it could have been a tossed cig, but more likely a tossed bottle (or maybe can, not sure if cans reflect enough to start fires).

Anonymous said...

One of the better known national weathermen recently said that many of the conditions that caused the dust bowl are again present. He speculated that we could be in for a few years of really dry weather in the Southern Midwest. By the way his references were to cyclical weather patterns and was not part of the ongoing AGW arguement.

millenniumfly said...

I would imagine it's tough to deal with something that isn't a relative normal occurrence. Thanks for the advice.

riverwalker said...

To: One Fly

We got a little less than three and a half inches of rain in January of this year and less than an inch and a half in May...and that's it. Less than 5 inches for the year so far and we normally get around 40 to45 or more inches of rain.

It's gotten so dry that Walmart can't give a lawn mower away in my area.

The river and lake levels are getting pretty low as well. this is causing problems as well. Many of the stock tanks in my area are little more than dry holes in the ground right now.

The picture on my post is representative of most of the yards in my area and was taken in my own yard.While things haven't reached the critical stage yet, ground water levels are starting to drop seriously.

My place in the country usually gets a little more rain but it's been an insignificant amount compared to normal.

Usually we get some sort of tropical depression that will break up the high pressure cell that usually sits on top of us in the summer but without any significant storms this year, it's been nothing but hot and dry.

I'm hoping it won't reach the point of developing into being another Dust Bowl type situation.

Thanks One Fly.


riverwalker said...

To: Shreela

Many of the officers I supervise work as volunteer firefighters,on search and rescue teams and assist the local EMS units. They are staying pretty busy and quite often have to leave work at a moment's notice to assist in fighting brush and grass fires that are happening on an almost daily basis.

Right now it takes little more than a spark to set off a fire and unless you are being really careful, you'll wind up with an out of control fire very quickly.

The grass in most people's yards probably isn't high enough to pose a serious fire threat to your home. One of my co-workers says the biggest threat to your home is wind blown sparks landing on the roof of your home and setting it on fire.

While I don't think a can would reflect enough sunlight to start a fire, a piece of glass could very easily probably start a fire. They've even banned outdoor grilling in many areas because people have a tendency to be careless with their activities without realizing the risk they are taking.

We recently had a small fire break out on the edge of town where workers who were repairing a fire hydrant started a fire from a spark when using a grinder to cut a bolt on a fire hydrant that was out of order. Unfortunately, they had to shut off the water to repair it and without water pressure it required a little extra work to extinguish.

Thanks Shreela.


riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 5:42

I've heard similar reports as well, some even including a comparison of current economic conditions as well, especially since the Great Depression occurred during the Dust Bowl decade.

I don't think the real economic impact of the current extended dry spell has been felt yet. We may even be experiencing a cyclical effect in economic patterns as well.

Thanks anon.


riverwalker said...

To: milleniumfly

Just a few tips of how I'm trying to cope with the current dry spell we're having.
The next step will probably be to kick up my water storage up a couple of notches...just in case.



Shreela said...

@RW - I saw many dried up small ponds when I spent 2 weeks between Waco and Whitney. Only the deeper ponds had a bit of water, or just mud.

Most corn crops were brown, and maybe 2 feet tall. The cotton crops looked a bit better as far as still being green, but they were very small for how far into the season it was.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that readers of SciGuy's Weather/Science blog (Houston) would welcome a tropical storm. Of course I'd hope it was a cat1 or less LOL

riverwalker said...

To: Shreela

It usually takes some sort of tropical storm in the Gulf to push out the high pressure cell that sits on top of us or a pretty strong "Northeaster". Too early yet for a "Northeaster and not much prospect of good storm right now and we sure don't need a big storm.

Thanks Shreela.


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