DISCUSSION: A major climate boundary in the central U.S. has shifted 140 miles eastward, according to several new studies show.
The boundary, located at the 100th meridian or 100 degrees west, was first distinguished by American geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell in 1878. Powell found that the boundary was the separation between the dry western U.S. and the humid East.
The 100th meridian runs through the modern-day states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is known as the start of the Great Plains, an arid, open-aired region of the country that has a population less than the whole state of Georgia but covers one-fifth of the country’s land area. The boundary previously classified many large, populous cities in the central U.S. in the moist sector of the country. However, cities like Oklahoma City, OK, Wichita, KS, and Lincoln, NE will now lie west of the line in the dry sector. The major cities of Dallas, TX, and Corpus Christi, TX, the third and eighth largest cities respectively, lie right on the new boundary which runs roughly along the 98th meridian.
Areas west of the boundary are drier for a variety of reasons. The Great Plains are in the leeward side of the Rocky Mountains which amplifies the rain shadow effect, shielding the region from any moisture that would make it there from the Pacific Ocean. In the winter, the region doesn’t benefit from the moisture-laden Nor’Easters that travel up the East coast. In the summer, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico makes it into the eastern section of the Plains but normally curves eastward before reaching western sections of the region.
The less developed region west of the boundary boasts a smaller population and larger farms, many of which rely on wheat which requires less precipitation than most crops. To the east of the boundary lies a more developed region with a larger population and smaller farms. These farms are dependent upon moisture-heavy crops like corn. The recent study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute suggests that as the climate boundary continues to move east, farms will become smaller and crops like corn will become less viable. It is likely that the boundary will shift into the Midwest, probably eventually reaching the farm-rich states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
The scientists who conducted the study predict that farms in the East will fail should they keep depending on crops like corn, which is 70% of the crop in the eastern Great Plains. Unless they switch to irrigation, these farms will have to consolidate or begin using western-style grazing range farming. As the boundary continues to shift east, it will signal the creation of a drier eastern US, which will wreak havoc not only on agriculture, but water sources for both rural and urban areas alike.
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©2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger