The Drought of 1988 was the worst since the Dust Bowl

President Ronald Reagan visits the Krone Family Farm in Du Quoin, Illinois on July 14, 1988 (Courtesy: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum)

Do you remember 1988? It was a year of horrendous drought and summer heat in Illinois and across much of our country.

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous Drought of 1988, one of this country’s worst natural disasters and the costliest U.S. drought in history; and easily the worst drought since the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s.

At one point, 45 percent of the Lower 48 was in a state of extreme drought and 11 states declared all of their counties “disaster areas.” The heat which accompanied the drought is believed to have cost the lives of 5,000 to 10,000 in this county, and its impact on our region’s farmers was devastating, slashing corn yields by a staggering 44%.

The total crop yield in 1988 came in at just 192 million metric tons, the smallest on the books since 1970 and the first year the crop yield in the Soviet Union exceeded that of the United States. The price tag attached to the 1988 disaster fell in the range of $80 to $120 billion, an amount equivalent to the damage produced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005.

The drought was accompanied by stifling heat, as droughts all too often are. Chicago recorded 47 days at or above 90-degrees and seven days over 100, the most of any year since our instrument record began in 1871.

In Milwaukee, there were 55 consecutive days without a drop of rain. Minneapolis recorded just 0.22″ of rain in June of that year, a fraction of the more than 4″ which is “normal.”

The Mississippi River fell 20 feet in some locations, low enough that it exposed vessels which had sunk back in the 1800s for the first time.

Our state climatologist here in Illinois, Dr, Jim Angel, has posted a “Drought of 1988” retrospective from the Illinois Farm Bureau on his Facebook page.