A Note on Mother Nature and Redistricting


We all know that Louisiana is losing a U.S. House seat this year because of Mother Nature. The terrible destructive power of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused the population of New Orleans to decrease by about 140,000 people from the 2000 to 2010 census, which greatly contributed to the state’s congressional delegation falling from seven to six. One incumbent, probably freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA), will be out of a job come January 2013.

This caused us to wonder: Has Mother Nature ever intervened in the redistricting process before? The best argument can probably be made for the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

The devastating Dust Bowl drought of 1931-1939 primarily affected the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, along with most of Kansas and eastern Colorado. Iowa also had dust storms, as did a total of 21 states to a greater or lesser degree.

The results suggest that, at least in some cases, the long-lasting drought held down population enough to cost some states a seat. Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma all lost one House seat in the 1940 Census. Texas held steady at 21 seats—but this is the one and only decade since Texas became a state when Lone Star representation in the U.S. House did not increase. Even the Great Hurricane of 1900, which destroyed large parts of Galveston, had no long-term impact. Of course, the hurricane hit in September 1900, after the Census was completed, taking the lives of about 8,000 people. Texas had long since recovered by the time of the Census of 1910.

So now we have two examples of Mother Nature’s political fury taking a toll at Census time: Katrina and the Dust Bowl. Are there others that we have missed throughout American history? E-mail us us at goodpolitics@virginia.edu, and we’ll publish with credit any that we can verify.