What initiated the Dust Bowl in the early 1930s and what caused the rains to return nearly a decade later are still open questions. The prevailing view is that drought is an inherently stochastic phenomenon, initiated and terminated by random fluctuations in atmospheric circulation patterns, and sustained over long periods of time by positive feedback from the terrestrial biosphere (Namias, 1960; Rind, 1982; Shukla and Mintz, 1982; Karl, 1983; Sud and Molod, 1988; Bravar and Kavvas, 1991; Xue and Shukla, 1993; Dirmeyer, 1994; Lare and Nicholson, 1994). A few weeks of abnormally hot, dry weather are sufficient to desiccate the upper layers of the soil, reducing the water available for plants to absorb through their root systems. The plants respond by reducing the rate of evapotranspiration through leaves during the daylight hours (Dirmeyer, 1994; Radersma and de Reider, 1996; Xue et al., 1996). Reduced evapotranspiration inhibits the ability of the plants to keep themselves and the earth’s surface beneath them cool during midday, when the incoming solar radiation is strongest (Somayao et al., 1980; Gardner et al., 1981). This favors higher afternoon temperatures and also reduces the humidity within the lower 1-2 km of the atmosphere (Walsh et al., 1985; Karl, 1986; Georgakakos et al., 1995; Huang et al., 1996; Dai et al., 1999). Because this boundary-layer air is the source of roughly half the moisture that condenses in summer rainstorms over the central United States, lower humidity favors reduced precipitation (Brubaker et al., 1993; Eltahir and Bras, 1996; Koster and Suarez, 1996; Findell and Eltahir, 1999; Trenberth, 1999). Higher daily maximum temperatures, lower humidity, and reduced precipitation all increase the stress on plants. If the stress is sufficiently severe and long, the physiological changes in plants become irreversible. Once the threshold is crossed, the earliest hope for the restoration of normal vegetation is the next spring growing season, which can be 6 or even 9 months away. Throughout the remainder of the summer and early autumn, the parched land surface continues to exert a feedback on the atmosphere that perpetuates the abnormally hot, dry weather conditions (Yeh et al., 1984; Huang and Van den Dool, 1993; Yang et al., 1994; Huang et al., 1996; Fennesy and Shukla, 1999).
The wilting of the plants also affects hydrological conditions in the ground. In the absence of healthy root systems, water runs off more rapidly after rainstorms, leaving behind less to nurture the plants. Once the water table drops substantially, an extended period of near- or above-normal precipitation is required to restore groundwater (Palmer, 1965; Entekhabi et al., 1992; Bravar and Kavvas, 1991; Stamm et al., 1994). The remarkable year-to-year persistence of the 1930s drought attests to the memory of the