Drought to Intensify
With lawns browning and some crops either stunted or shriveling, no question drought conditions are intensifying across our region. Again, I stress this is an agricultural drought since the water table is doing OK bolstered by the rains of 2011.
While pockets of damp ground are common in Central WV where hay pastures are green and growing and a good start to the corn crop is underway, most of our agricultural rich fields in Ohio and Kentucky are parched.
My survey of local extension agents this week has just started but let me state up front that Boyd County farm guru Lyndal Harned and Meigs Ohio “boss of the moss” Hal Kneen are already talking reduced crop yields even before a blistering heat wave arrives by late week.
I will be adding personal farmer perspective all week long, but for now I want to describe why I believe we will hit 100 degrees on Friday.
In my quarter of a century at WSAZ, I have witnessed and endured many heat waves and at least 3 sizzling and relentless summers; namely, 1988, 1999 and 2007. The common antecedent meteorological thread to these years of drought and heat was the parched ground.
Simple stated, when there is water in the ground (top soil), daily evaporation sends water “vapor” invisibly into the air and to the heavens above. That vapor cools as it rises and then condenses into clouds and rain which then sets up a cycle of “off and on” downpours and a relatively temperate summer.
But since March I have sensed a lack of water in the ground. Sure the late April-Mid May 4 week period was wet, but before and after that period, only spotty rains have occurred. But that water has now long since evaporated to space. Now instead of diverting its energy to evaporating more water, the sun is able to use 100% of its power to heat our valleys. That is a recipe for a scorching and drought riddled summer ahead.
So far we have mustered 7 days of 90 degree weather. That’s on pace with last summer’s output and even with that of 1999. That last summer of the 20th century would end up with more than 50 days above 90, a handful near 100 and crops failing across our region.
While we still have time to make rain and a crop, the writing is on the wall for what may be ahead; namely drought and heat wave..
If you are a pool owner the heat and drought are costing you money also. That’s because you are losing up to 2” of water per week due to evaporation. Likewise your lawn and landscape are losing 1-1.5” per week when it does rain. So even if you are watering, you are fighting a losing battle. No wonder pools are shrinking, lawns browning and crops wilting.
Now consider the plight of our farmers. June rains have been below normal and when they did occur, “they have been too hard, too fast and fallen on hard soil so most of the water ran off and didn’t soak in”, says Hal Kneen.
In fact Wayne County extension agent Carl Marcum says “we need one inch of rain per per week to sustain a good crop.” Good luck getting that this week.
Kneen also told me today how the corn is soon to enter the tassel stage with kernel fill to follow. That means rain is needed to make the kernels grow. ‘That near 100 degree weather you are talking about is going to further stress an already stressed crop. We are already hearing from OSU that crop yields will be down 10% this year”, Hal said. Now the prospects of a long, punishing heat wave adds more doubt to this year’s crop yield.
Back to those summers of ’88, ’99, ‘07.
After scorching hot days near and even above 100, nights cooled into the 50s in rural areas and even downtown locations had dawn temperatures settle to 60. That’s symptomatic of a desert climate; namely a huge temperature swing from afternoon high to morning low.
I still remember my first summer here (1988) and the summer of 1999 having a blast furnace afternoon of heat only to succumb to the dry desert air at night. Fiery sunsets then comfy nights were the norm in June.
Both those summers highs managed 100 degrees on several ocassions. No reason to think if that won't happen again this summer as early as Friday.
One final note the hottest day on record in our region is 108 degrees back in the dust bowl days of the 1930s. I have one metric that under the right circumstamces, we can hit 103-104 on Friday. I will anxiously be watching this on what promises to be a scorching TGIF.