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Weather wish list: America's farmers hope for cooling rains after the hottest year on record and a severe drought.

Corn and soybean crops withered across the Midwest. Parts of the Mississippi River dried up. The prices of everything from beef to milk and cereal began to rise.

These are some of the effects of last year's wild weather. 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the continental United States. A historic drought happened too--the biggest one to hit the U.S. in more than 50 years.

A drought is a long period of little or no rain or snow. The drought hit the nation hardest last summer. It mainly affected the area known as the Corn Belt. This region in the central United States is where most of the nation's corn is grown. More than half the U.S. corn crop was damaged. Now people are wondering: Will the rain stay away again this year?

Dry Times

A drought is typically caused by changes in the wind patterns that move clouds and moisture through the atmosphere. Last year's drought was partly caused by a weather pattern called La Nina. La Nina slows the development of storm clouds.

At the same time, much of the nation experienced extreme heat. This caused soil and plants to dry out even faster. The damage to crops, particularly corn, had serious consequences. Corn is used to feed cows and chickens, so farmers have had to spend more to feed their livestock. The increase in costs drove up food prices.

Rains Ahead?

But there is some good news! The drought has encouraged farmers to come up with ways to use less water. Many have worked to improve the way they irrigate, or water, their crops. Everyone--even kids--can follow their example and cut back on their water usage.

"We are all connected to agriculture by the fact that we use water," says farming expert Michael Bartolo. "It's everybody's responsibility to conserve water."

Though it's important to be prepared for drought, farmers really want to see the rains return. Fortunately, that might happen. Weather scientists say the U.S. may experience more normal weather this spring. That means more rainfall and cooler temperatures.

"If that happens," says farm economist Bruce Babcock, "[the drought] should all be a memory in 2014."

Flavor Changer

Last year's weather extremes have changed the taste of some foods! The combination of extreme heat and lack of water can increase the amount of sugars or chemicals in crops, bringing out certain flavors, Here's how the drought affected the taste of some produce.

Sweeter: It led to a buildup in sugar.

MORE PUNGENT:

It made strong flavors more intense.

MORE BITTER:

It concentrated the chemicals that make bitter flavors.

SPICIER:

It is increased levels of the chemical that makes peppers hot.

Lexile Level 900; Guided Reading Level T

OBJECTIVE

Understand the environmental and economic effects of a recent drought in the United States.

SET UP

Obtain two paper towels, a tablespoon, water, a blow dryer, a marker, and masking tape. Label one paper towel 'A' and the other 'B.'

BEFORE READING

1. Explain that you will pour one tablespoon of water onto each towel. You will tape the towels to the board and hold the blow dryer over only towel A' for two minutes. Ask: What can you predict will happen to the water on each towel? (Answers will vary.)

2. Conduct the activity described in step one. Ask:

* What happened to the water on each towel? (More water disappeared from towel 'A' than from towel 'B.')

* What science word describes the process in which a liquid transforms into a gas state? (evaporation)

* What conditions provided by the blow dryer increased the rate of evaporation? (moving air; heat)

AFTER READING

* How are the conditions created by the blow dryer similar to conditions during last year's drought? (Extreme heat and lack of rainfall caused material [like soil] to dry out in many places.)

* Explain how drought created economic consequences that were felt in the Corn Belt and beyond. (Drought damaged the corn used to feed livestock. Farmers paid more for corn, which increased the prices for consumers buying meat, milk, eggs, and other goods.)

RESOURCE

* Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1999)

READING AND LITERACY CONNECTION

Go to www.scholastic.com/superscience to download the " skills sheet Making Headlines." Students write an article about a weather event in their town. Common Core State Standard Writing: 4
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:earth science
Author:Walters, Jennifer Marino
Publication:SuperScience
Geographic Code:1U300
Date:Apr 1, 2013
Words:724
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