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Publication Abstract

Causes and Implications of Record Windblown Dust Conditions during 1981 in Illinois Changnon, Stanley A., Jr., 1982  Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, IL,  ISWS C-151    Full Text Available

Parts of Illinois experienced severe and frequent dust storms during the spring of 1981, reminiscent of conditions in the 1930's. In portions of central Illinois, the frequency of days with blowing dust (visibility less than 5/8 mile) exceeded prior high values of this Century, setting new all-time records. Windblown dust reaching the dust storm level has largely been a spring season phenomenon, obviously related to agricultural practices interacting with a certain mix of critical weather conditions such as the high winds common to the spring combined with untypical dry conditions. Other known factors affecting the amount of wind erosion are soil types, field size, and vegetative cover (Woodrow and Siddoway, 1965).

In the spring of 1981, Illinois was entering the second year of a moderate drought that had begun in the spring of 1980 (Changnon, 1981). This drought, as defined by persistent precipitation deficiencies, was concentrated in the southern third of Illinois. The driest 12-month period in the drought area, defined by the period of April 1980 through March 1981, had a precipitation deficiency ranking as a once in 7-year event. However, the area of frequent blowing dust in the spring of 1981 was located to the north of the 1980-1981 drought area. There were initial suspicions that the severe dust in central Illinois originated in the southern Illinois drought area.

This study of the 1981 blowing dust conditions has been made because of its record-breaking proportions and its serious impacts. As revealed by the headlines and photographs in Figure 1, the conditions were sufficiently severe to bring widespread attention and great concern over losses of Illinois' valuable soil. Visibility problems were sufficiently bad to produce several traffic accidents in central Illinois, and the windblown dust became a pollutant that infiltrated businesses and homes in central Illinois.

Atmospheric scientists were also concerned on at least two accounts: one was the record or extreme event nature of the situation (and hence its causes), and the other was the fact that large volumes of dust affect atmospheric quality and precipitation quality. An earlier study (Siebel and Semonin, 1981) postulated that the windblown dust in the 1953-1955 drought had a major effect on the acidity of rainfall. The 1980-1981 dust conditions offered an opportunity to examine their hypothesis...

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