Heatwaves, Drought and Dust Bowls

Drought monitor for July 12, 2022
Drought monitor for July 12, 2022

There’s been some good news about the wheat harvest in Kansas and corn and soybean in the Midwest. At the same time, however, the drought monitor (image above) looks terrible across much of the west and south. Even large chunks of North Carolina and Georgia are in a moderate drought.

As you can see from the image above, much of the West, South, and High Plains are experiencing severe drought, extreme drought, and exceptional drought. It appears every inch of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are in a state of drought. While California and the desert southwest are no stranger to drought conditions, the extent the drought has extended into Texas and Oklahoma has some talking about the return of dust bowls.

This is reportedly the worst drought in 1,200 years. Not only does it threaten agriculture but life itself in parts of the west where there have been record-setting temperatures. High heat and a lack of water will kill you as surely as cold weather. In a post-SHTF situation, I’d rather live in the artic than in a desert.

When I was writing yesterday’s piece about our local harvest, it made me think again that we are indeed lucky to be what I once called “water wealthy.” Equally important, we live in an area of relatively mild temperatures. This combination of regular rain, clear air, bright sunshine, and temperatures that almost never breach 90 or fall below zero makes it an excellent place to live, grow crops and raise livestock.

I don’t know if it was luck or good planning, but we’re glad to be here.

Move to the Mountains

If you live in an urban or suburban area but plan to relocate one day, I heartily recommend and endorse moving to the mountains. (The sooner the better!) In my opinion, your best bet for sustainability is a valley between two mountains, so there is enough flat land to plant some crops. As the land turns upwards, plant or orchards or pasture livestock. Whether you call these valleys, a wash, a hollow, or a holler, they usually have a stream or even a small river running down the middle. This ensures access to water and the possibility of hydropower.

As you know, I live in the Appalachians and I think their advantage over the Rockies and other Western mountain ranges is water availability. Too much of the Rockies are arid. Yes, they have lakes, beautiful rivers and great fishing, but there is something about water falling from the sky all year that is hard to beat. That is lacking in much of the West. While the East Coast may be more crowded than western states, there are still areas of relative isolation to be found from the White Mountain in Maine, down through the Green Mountains and Adirondacks, the Alleghenies, along parts of the Blue Ridge, and into the Smokey Mountains in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Mountains also provide protection from natural disasters, such as tsunamis, even a big one caused by a comet strike. Living between several mountains can protect you from the effects of nuclear blast (assuming it is outside your valley) and may shelter you from some weather events. Mountains will also help keep you safe from volcanos as long as you avoid active volcanos. You don’t want a close-up view of the next Mount St. Helens eruption.

Prepping for a Drought

I feel it is easier to store a year’s worth of food than it is to store a year’s worth of water. Changing habits to reduce consumption may help, but your best bet would be to have an ongoing supply of water. Since we are talking post-SHTF, a non-electric supply will be your best bet.

Even if you have bountiful local water, you must get it to your house, garden and livestock. I have found the secret to a non-electric water supply is to have a large storage tank. I recommend 1,000 gallons if you have a constant flow of water or several times that if you count on rain or another intermittent source for your water. The more you intend to do with your water, the larger your holding tank should be and the greater the diameter of your pipes. For example, if you are planning to use your water for firefighting, size your system accordingly.

If you are dealing with multiple pastures and need to keep troughs filled for watering cattle, sheep, goats or other livestock, you may need multiple water systems to cover your acreage. That’s OK, it gives you some redundancy. Below are three non-electric options:

Gravity Fed Spring

We have a gravity-fed water system where a spring directs water down a long pipe and into our storage tank. This tank sits 163 feet above our house, giving us 65 pounds of water pressure. I am familiar with two different installations where a spring feeds multiple houses and one fellow who uses a spring to fill his below-ground pool.

Ram Pump

If you live on or near a natural water source, you may be able to feed water from the stream, river or lake directly into your storage tank. If your tank is above the water source, consider a ram pump to provide electricity-free water delivery. They can lift water seven feet for every one foot of head. Here is a low-cost source for ram pumps. I’ve never used their products, and this is not a paid link, but their website is full of useful information. He also offers a river pump for fast-moving water.

Rain Catchment

Finally, there’s the rain catchment system, which is accessible to anyone living in an area with regularly recurring rainfall. Direct the water from your roof (and possibly the roof of any outbuildings) into your storage tank, and voila: you have a source of soft water that does not require electricity. If you need to pump the water from your storage tank to your home, you can use a solar-powered 12-volt RV system.

Of these three approaches, rain is the least consistent and the most likely to fail during a drought when there is little or no rainfall. That’s when having a secondary source of water will be useful. A gasoline pump that can refill your tank from an open water source is a suitable backup.

Whether or how you plan to filter or treat your drinking water is another discussion.

The Real Estate Collapse

As interest rates jump and mortgages become more expensive, housing prices should drop. As the recession sets in, fewer people will have the money necessary to buy a new house. Many will struggle to hold on to what they have. Inevitably, some will be forced to sell. There will be fore closures and auctions.

If you are lucky enough to have some cash on hand, the next year could see an opportunity to buy that homestead, retreat, or mountain getaway you always thought about. I bet real estate agents will have plenty of time on their hands and be more than ready to help you look. Start soon because it can be a lengthy process. If this sounds good, take a look at the story of our property search.

In 2008, I was working in an industry that was reverse-cyclical, meaning it did well when the economy was bad. As a result, I was able to make home improvements and a fraction of what it would have cost a year or two prior. Contractors were desperate for work. We’re going to see that same scenario. If any of you are lucky enough to be securely employed and making good money during the recession, you may have the chance of a lifetime to buy, build or improve your retreat or your rural home. Just make sure it has plenty of water!

Video of the Day

This video starts with a report from a farmer in Texas where they have had only 2.75 inches of rain in the past year.


  1. I should have guessed you watch Appalacian Homestead on youtube! Highly recommended to any readers of this blog!

Comments are closed.