A few years ago, when I saw the trees being cut down along highway 51 (I-39) south of Stevens Point, I got a sense of foreboding. That familiar sight for travelers, those rows of trees that lined the highway, were planted back in the dust bowl days or shortly thereafter in order to prevent soil erosion and dust storms (according to some local folks). When I saw the trees being cut down I thought about how human memories are short. Severe multi-year droughts do happen. There is nothing special about the present day that grants us immunity from dust storms and that is just what we had yesterday. Due to the dry weather over the last couple of weeks and Spring planting, there was a lot of dust and sand ready to be blown into the air. It was the worst dust storm I have seen in Wisconsin during my life, and I hear it was even worse in the Stevens Point area, around the central sands. The official visibility in Wausau dropped to 3 miles.
In Stevens Point the visibility was officially as low as 2.5 miles (at the airport). Judging by pictures that some viewers sent in, it was much lower than that at times, probably less than 1 mile.
Now, I realize that the rows of trees south of Stevens Point would not have prevented the dust storm yesterday, but they would have helped at least a little bit. Also, due to more widespread irrigation, it would take a very significant drought to re-create the severity of the dust bowl days. However, I can’t help but dwell on how history repeats itself, if not exactly, then it at least rhymes. Prior to the dust bowl years (1930s), we had an economic crash. In 2008 we had another economic crash and are still mired in a recession. 2008 was about the time all of those trees were being taken out. A bad omen?
Which reminds me of another article I read recently about trees cooling streams. Although this would seem to be common sense, Australian researchers found that tree-lined streams remained much healthier than other streams (aside: Australia just emerged from their own decade-long dustbowl). In a potentially warmer world in the future we might want to make sure we don’t cut down too many trees around rivers and streams (as well as replanting them around some large farm fields). This might be particularly important for trouts streams in Wisconsin. Trout require cooler water than most fish.
Other than the high winds and dust storm, we did have some severe thunderstorms during the late afternoon and evening. High straight-line winds brought down a few trees and power lines and there was one report of a very brief tornado touchdown near Marathon City in Marathon county.
For those of you who entered the snowmelt contest, no doubt the hot weather yesterday took a bite out of the snow pile and the hot weather I expect on Sunday (maybe 90) could put a final nail in the remaining snow. I will try to get some pictures to share so stay tuned to the weather blog late in the weekend and early next week.
Have a fine Friday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on May 25, 2012