"Death Dust: The Valley Fever Menace"

Valley fever, a sometimes-serious fungal disease endemic to the Southwest, is spread by windborne soil dust. Climate change may make it worse.

"In 1977, the San Joaquin Valley—the swath of agricultural land that runs through central California—was designated a disaster area. Record-low runoff and scant rainfall had created drought conditions. At the beginning of Christmas week, the weather was normal in Bakersfield, the city at the Valley’s southern end, but in the early hours of December 20th a strong wind began to blow from the Great Basin through the Tehachapi Mountains. Hitting the ground on the downslope, it lofted a cloud of loose topsoil and mustard-colored dust into the sky.

The plume rose to five thousand feet; dust blotted out the sun four counties away. Traffic on Highway 5, the state’s main artery, stopped. At a certain point, the anemometers failed; the U.S. Geological Survey estimated wind speeds as high as a hundred and ninety-two miles an hour. Windows on houses were sandblasted to paper thinness."

Dana Goodyear reports for the New Yorker issue cover-dated January 20, 2014.

Source: New Yorker, 01/14/2014