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Weather vs Climate, What is the Difference?

Weather, Climate, and People: What are the Short- and Long-Term Impacts?

Weather and climate influence our lives daily. Whether it’s deciding to bring a jacket and umbrella on a walk or causing life-threatening issues like food insecurity and conflict abroad, these phenomena have both short- and long-term impacts.

Weather impacts people via temperature, windiness, rain, snow, ice, storminess, cloudiness, and air quality. It influences people’s decisions in clothing, transportation, and travel. Businesses and outdoor activities such as construction and repairs, landscaping and watering, sports and recreation, and meetings can change due to weather events. Even though some weather phenomena such as rain, wind, and storm might be relatively short, their impacts on a community or region may last for months or years depending on the severity of the event.

Though similar, the impacts of climate events last much longer than those of weather events, with some lasting for a few months, a few years or even a few decades. Climate events can damage or benefit supply and demand for food, water, and electricity. Therefore, the health of people, animals, and marine and land ecosystems rely on accessibility to such resources. Climate events can also impact river flows and, consequently, transportation and commerce on waterways. In the last 1,000 years, climate events, especially droughts, which last from a few years to a few decades, can cause famines, water shortages, socio-economic and political instabilities, and political revolutions and armed conflicts within and among countries.

What are the Societal Consequences of Drought?

**Tables From: Mehta, 2017: Natural Decadal Climate Variability. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 326 pp.

Epochs of North American Decadal Hydrologic Cycles and Their Societal Consequences

Years (CE)EpochNameSocietal Consequences
1273 - 1298DryThe Puebloan droughtRapid declines and migrations of populations of the Anasazi, the Fremont, and the Lovelock cultures in the Western U.S.; and the Cahokian culture in the Mississippi River valley (Benson et al., 2007; Axtell et al., 2002)
1299 - 1336Wet--
1346 - 1355DryMississippian droughtDecline of complex societies in the Mississippi River valley, partly due to widespread, poor crop harvests and limited food storage facilities (Anderson et al., 1995; Milner, 1998).
1378 - 1388Wet/DryMississippian droughtWet in the West, dry in the Mississippi River valley; further decline of societies in the Mississippi River valley
1449 - 1458DryMississippian droughtSevere drought in the Mississippi River valley and southern Plains; abandonment of Mississippian settlements in eastern Oklahoma and the area around the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers (Thomas, 2000; Cobb and Butler, 2002)
1563 - 1573Wet/DryMississippian droughtWet in the West, dry in the Mississippi River valley and the Northeast;
1666 - 1674DryThe Puebloan droughtDisease, deaths, and village abandonment due to famine (Sauer, 1980)
1806 - 1808DryThe Great American DesertReports of the Great Plains as a desert by the Zebulon Pike expedition (Wishart, 2004; Rosenberg, 2007)
1810 - 1820Wet-Westward migration of people from the eastern U.S. tripled Missouri’s population in this epoch, demands for statehood for Missouri
1820 - 1826DryThe Great American DesertReports of the areas along the Missouri and Platte Rivers as a desert by the Stephen Long expedition (Kane et al., 1978)
1856 - 1867DryThe Civil War DroughtLarge-scale crop failure; major dust storms (Malin, 1946); severe depletion of bison population due to competition for water with Native Americans and European immigrants
1867 - 1871WetThe Garden MythCyrus Thomas and other scientists and non-scientists expound that increased cultivation and settlement brings increased rain – “Rain follows the plow” (Reisner, 1986)
1872 - 1884Dry; wet during 1877-79-Rocky Mountain locust swarms covered area of the western U.S. comparable to the area of mid-Atlantic states and New England (Lockwood, 2004; Seager and Herweijer, 2011); soon after the wet years, Wilber (1881) extols the western U.S.’s agricultural potential
1890 - 1898Dry-Major dust storms; beginning of large-scale irrigated agriculture with the Reclamation Act of 1902 (Seager and Herweijer, 2011)
1905- 1930WetThe Big MuggyMost intense pluvial period in 1200 years; longest period of predominantly high flow in the Colorado River in 450 years; decadal doubling of human population in the western U.S. (Stockton and Jacoby, 1976; Woodhouse et al., 2005); large-scale agricultural development
1934- 1940DryThe Dust Bowl or Dirty Thirties DroughtBlowing topsoil due to drought and poor land management practices; crop production sharply reduced; 3.5 million people migrated out of the drought-affected area; Federal Government financial assistance $1 billion (1930s dollars; Warrick, 1980); large-scale farm bankruptcies and sell-offs; drought and its consequences subject of books ( Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb), music (Woody Guthrie), and photographs (Dorothy Lange); this drought inspiration for the 2014 movie Intersteller
1941- 1952Wet-Rapid expansion of agriculture due to this wet epoch and rapid industrialization due to the Second World War, resulting in a rapid economic boom; return to inappropriate farming and grazing practices (
1952- 1958Dry-Crop production sharply reduced, extreme low river flows, major groundwater depletion (Nace and Pluhowski, 1965); dry pastures affected cattle production; thousands of new irrigation wells and hastening of development of center-pivot irrigation systems; drought and consequences subject of a book ( The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash), later made into a movie
1980– 1987 Wet-Floods damaged dams, levees, and riverside built environment; at least $1 billion (1980s dollars) losses
1988 - 1991Dry, mainly in the Missouri and Mississippi River Basins-Substantially reduced river flows and run-offs into reservoirs, as much as 50% of average in some reservoirs; substantial reduction in crop production, water use restrictions in many cities; shortening of river navigation season and restrictions on draughts and tow lengths of barges; reduction in hydropower and thermal power production; associated heat waves killed 5000 to 17000 people in the U.S.; cost $80 billion to $120 billion (2008 dollars) in damages, perhaps the costliest natural disaster in the history of the U.S.; enactment of state and Federal legislation on water use efficiency and groundwater management (Mehta et al., 2013)
1992 - 2001Wet-Wide-spread flooding and restrictions on river navigation in some years; substantial damage to built environment and infrastructure in some metropolitan areas; increased demands on urban water systems for water purification; substantial crop losses (Mehta et al., 2013); several billion dollars (1990s dollars) damages
2001 - 2004DryThe Aughts DroughtMandatory water restriction in some major cities; low crop and forage yields, increased sales of cattle, increased investments in center-pivot irrigation systems, and increase in no-till farming; decreased populations of fish, waterfowl, and deer; more intense storms overwhelmed storm sewers and water treatment facilities; increased water pollution and restrictions on power plant operations due to low flows in rivers (Mehta et al., 2013)

Epochs of Decadal Hydrologic Cycles in Europe and Their Societal Consequences

Years (CE)EpochNameSocietal Consequences
1315 - 22WetThe Great FamineVery wet in Britain, northern France, Scandinavia, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and western Poland; crop failures, food price increases; extreme levels of criminal activity, diseases, cannibalism, mass migrations from rural areas to cities; 10-25% of people in many cities died; in one instance of food scarcity, King Edward II of England unable to find bread for himself and entourage (Warner, 2009); anecdote about King Louis X of France forced to retreat from invasion of Flanders due to soggy ground; apparent failure of prayers to alleviate the famine undermined the Catholic Church’s authority; confidence in governments undermined (Jordan, 1996)
1590sDry-Worst famine in centuries due to crop failures; high food prices coupled with high human populations
1618 - 1648Dry-Famines in Europe exacerbated by the Thirty Years’ War
1693 - 1710DrySeven Ill Years (in Scotland)Scotland; droughts, multiyear crop failures from the 1680s, famines (Mitchison, 2002; Cullen, 2010 ); possible influences of eruptions of Hekla (1693) in Iceland, and Serua (1693) and Aboina (1694) in Indonesia (Morrison, 2011); 5-15% of Scotland’s population dead (Wormald, 2005); large-scale emigration from Scotland to North America, the West Indies, and Ireland (Smout et al., 1994; Cullen, 2010); consequent agrarian, trade, and banking reforms, eventually leading to formation of the United Kingdom with England (Mitchison, 2002); in France, starvation and diseases due to crop failures, exacerbated by ongoing wars, resulted in 2 million deaths (6% of France’s population) ( Ó Gráda and Chevet, 2002)
1740sDry-Very cold winters, summer droughts, famines; high mortality
1783 - 1795DryThe French Revolution DroughtFrance; long-running dry conditions since the early 1780s, worsened to droughts in the mid-decade; primitive agricultural technology, 20-25% of harvest used as seeds (Taine, 1958; Sée, 1958); following a decade (1770s) of recession and unemployment after France’s entry in the American War of Independence (Neumann, 1977; Labrousse, 1958); 90% of France’s population poor, rye or oat bread staple diet, 55-88% of income spent on bread (Lefebvre, 1954; Sée, 1958); high prices of all staple foods, including wine, due to the droughts; droughts and consequent famine a catalyst of “The Great Fear of 1789” and the French Revolution (Lefebvre, 1973; Neumann, 1977)
1815-1827Wet/DryThe Tambora FaminesFollowing very explosive eruption of Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia in April 1815; “Year Without a Summer” in 1816 and subsequent years of cool and wet or warm and dry climate caused major food crises around the world; severe famines in Britain, Ireland, Germany; riots and looting in many European cities; worst famine in 19 th century Europe (Post, 1977; Gore, 2000)
1832-1848DryThe 1848 Revolutions DroughtLong-running dry conditions; crop failures, especially in 1846, led to hardships for rural and urban workers, food prices soared, demand for manufactured goods decreased, bankruptcies and urban unrest increased; a potato blight caused widespread famines in Ireland and continental Europe; in conjunction with political, economic, and social factors, droughts and consequent famines also responsible for revolutions in over 50 countries (Breuilly, 2000)
1975-1977DryThe Grovel DroughtMultiyear drought in the United Kingdom, the worst drought and heat in summer 1976, the hottest summer in at least 350 years (Cox, 1978); crop failures, devastating heath and forest fires in southern England; significant increase in food prices; extremely low water levels in reservoirs and some rivers; widespread water rationing; Government appointed a Minister for Drought; on drought-parched English cricket grounds in summer 1976, the West Indies team - fired up by a seemingly racist and patronizing public comment by the captain of the England team - utterly dominated all matches between the two teams, beginning the domination of the West Indies in world cricket for the next two decades (Tossell, 2007)
1999-2002Wet-Replenishment of groundwater and reservoirs depleted by the 1995 – 98 drought;
2008-2012Wet-2012 the second wettest year on record in the U.K. (UK Met. Office data)

Epochs of Decadal Hydrologic Cycles in the Asian Monsoon Region and Their Societal Consequences

Years (CE)EpochNameSocietal Consequences
1393 - 1407DryDvadasavarsha Panjam (Twelve-year Famine) and the Durga Devi FamineSouth India, Deccan Plateau
1460 - 1465 DryDamaji Pant’s FamineDeccan Plateau; drought and famine; Damaji Pant, a high revenue official in the Bahamani Kingdom in the Deccan Plateau and a devotee of God Vithoba, is believed to have distributed grain to starving people from the royal granary ( Kosambi, 2000 ), but Damaji Pant also mentioned as the savior in the 1393 – 1407 famine (The Journal of the Administrative Sciences, 1979); a temple in Damaji Pant’s honor is in Mangalwedha, Solapur District, Maharashtra State, India
1628 - 1635Dry-Western India, Deccan Plateau; drought and consequent crop failures; 2 million deaths (Ó Gráda, 2007)
1765 - 73DryGreat Bengal FamineNorthern and Central Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Bangladesh; drought and consequent large-scale crop failures exacerbated by forced cultivation of opium and indigo by the British East Indian Company reducing food availability; large scale outmigration of people from affected areas; 10 million deaths (Dutt, 1908; Fiske, 1942; Chaudhary, 1999)
1780 - 84DryChalisa FamineSouthern, Western, and Northern India; droughts followed by a volcanic eruption in Iceland (Laki fissure) may have caused decreased monsoon rainfall for several years; called Chalisa due to occurrence in the year 1840 of King Vikram (40 translates to Chalis in Hindi); total death toll may have been up to 11 million people (Grove, 2007); serious, worldwide consequences of the Laki eruption (Wood, 1992; Steingrímsson and Kunz, 1998; Thordaldson and Self, 2003; Oman et al., 2006)
1789 - 1801DrySkull FamineWestern, Central, and Southern India; drought followed by severe famine for several years; prices of essential foods increased 300% to 800% in 4-5 years in some regions (Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, 1885); at least 11 million deaths (Grove, 2007); known as “the Skull Famine” due to human skeletons lying on roads and fields; large-scale intra- and inter-regional migrations of people seeking food
1865 - 1874DryOdisha – Rajasthan – Bihar Famines Odisha, Bihar, Western India, Punjab; drought, price speculation and profiteering, insufficient food storage, improvement in British colonial administration for drought and famine relief as the multiyear event unfolded (Nisbet, 1901; Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1907; Hall-Matthews, 2008; Yang, 1998); 4 to 5 million deaths due to starvation, malnutrition, and diseases; large-scale outmigration of people and cattle from Western India;
1876 - 78DryGreat FamineWestern and Southern India; grain exports by the British colonial government from India in spite of large-scale crop failures; 5.5 million people dead due to starvation, malnutrition, and diseases (Fieldhouse, 1996); emigration of a large number of agricultural laborers to British tropical colonies as indentured laborers (Roy, 2006); drought and famine subject of Tamil and other South Indian folk and literary traditions; famine led to the founding of the Indian National Congress in the next decade and became an important argument against British colonial rule (Hall-Matthews, 2008)
1896 - 1900DryIndian FaminesWestern and Central India; large-scale crop failures; grain exports from some affected areas for profiteering; food riots in some areas; millions of cattle dead; 6 to 8 million people dead due to starvation, malnutrition, and diseases (The Cambridge Economic History of India, 1983; Seavoy, 1986; Fieldhouse, 1996; Maharatna, 1996; Fagan, 2009); appointment of the Famine Commission of 1898
1942 - 44DryBengal FamineWest Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Bangladesh; controversy about causes of famine; combination of effects of cyclonic storm, crop disease, and drought on food production; cutting off of rice imports from Myanmar (Burma) due to Japanese occupation, export of substantial quantities of rice to Britain, a deliberate policy of denial towards India’s food requirements by the British Government, and price speculation and profiteering (Sen, 1983; Mukerjee, 2010); 3 million deaths due to starvation, malnutrition, and diseases; famine subject of books and movies in Bengali and English
1964 - 1967Dry-Western and Southern India Over 160 million affected
1983 - 87Dry-Western and Southern India 300 deaths, 310 million affected