When we think of severe droughts, we usually think of periods of extremely dry weather that persists long enough to cause problems such as crop damage and water shortages. However, the truth is that dry conditions develop for different reasons which is why there is more than one definition of drought. According to David Miskus, a drought expert and meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a drought is caused by not only lack of precipitation and high temperatures but also by overuse and overpopulation, and it can occur in virtually all climates.
Of all the weather-related phenomena that can cause severe economic impact in the United States, droughts come in second only to hurricanes, according to the National Climatic Data Center. But unlike hurricanes, which are easily identified and straightforward to classify in terms of wind speeds, droughts are much tougher to define. Sadly, droughts and their many repercussions, such as extreme famine, have been known to humankind since antiquity and still occur today, with starvation and malnutrition being some of the tragic outcomes in many parts of the world. These are the 25 Most Severe Droughts Ever Recorded.
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The 2014 Spanish Drought
Recently many parts of Spain suffered their most intense dry spell in more than a century and a half, with Valencia and Alicante among the worst-affected regions. According to the country’s meteorological agency, Aemet, in the 150 years prior, they had never witnessed such a long and intense drought, which has many experts worrying about the country’s water supplies for the near future.
The 1988–89 Droughts in Illinois, USA
The 1988–89 droughts were some of the most disastrous in the history of Illinois and America. The drought caused $60 billion in damage ($120 billion in today’s dollars, adjusting for inflation) and during the summer of 1988, it led to many wildfires in the forests of western North America, including Yellowstone. Moreover, thousands of Americans lost their lives because of extreme heat waves.
The 1829 Major Drought in Western Australia
This drought was so extreme that it nearly destroyed all agriculture in western Australia forcing settlers to traverse long distances for water and pastures for their flocks.
Horn of Africa Famine
Just as the region is experiencing a devastating famine in the twenty-first century, the Horn of Africa experienced a deadly drought and famine in 1888 that was mainly caused by an extreme lack of rainfall. Over one million reportedly died during that time in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia.
The 2010–11 Texas Drought
The agriculture industry in Texas was hit hard by the drought of 2010–11. According to the media, from November 2010 to August 1, 2011, Texas suffered an estimated $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses, surpassing the previous record loss of $4.1 billion in 2006. Due to record heat and drought, violent wildfires destroyed many homes in the area as well.