As July ended, the U.S. Drought Monitor officially classified more than 50 percent of the lower-48 as suffering "moderate to exceptional drought." For farmers, this was not news. This spring, record heat waves and scarce rainfalls plagued crop schedules. Temperatures soared so high across the American midwest that even if there had been a normal amount of precipitation, evaporation would still have led to drought conditions -- and instead, in the absence of the usual summer rains, June became one of the driest months on record. As corn began to shrivel on the stocks and soybean plants baked, the Department of Agriculture declared over half of U.S. counties "disaster zones," and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began to refer to this summer as the worst drought since 1956.
Scarce crop yields will hurt more than the U.S. -- high grain prices were linked to the global food crisis of 2008, and experts are already worried about this year's mounting food prices. As the heat waves continue, Foreign Policy takes a look back at the Dust Bowl, the last period in the country's history when crops withered in the fields, rising prices and foreclosures drove farmers to abandon their land, and drought refugees fled in search of water.
Above, corn killed by the heat and grasshoppers wilts in a field near Russelville, Arkansas, in August of 1936. Tom Franks is now 91, but he can still remember trying to help out around the family farm during the drought years. "The corn only got to about 3 feet high, and with no water available, it just turned brown," he told the News Sun. "Back then, we didn't plant corn until the first of June, because of the chance of frost and freeze. I can still see that short corn and how brown it got. Just like it's going to get this year if we don't get any rain."