The Drought Drags On: Dane County now "severe," feds declare disaster in 26 states
Post by Christie Taylor on 7/13/2012 10:00am
The unusually hot, dry summer marches on in southern Wisconsin, expanding as of Thursday such that Dane County has been upgraded from “moderate” to “severe” drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
In total, about 16 percent of the state is in that category, with only .31 inches of rain falling in Madison since the beginning of June--the driest June in 117 years--and soil moisture in the entire southern portion of the state extremely low.
An additional 15 percent is classified as being in moderate drought, and, farther north, about 20 percent of the state is “extremely dry.” So far, less than halfway through July, more than 100 daily maximum temperature records have been broken and another several dozen tied.
Most of Lake Michigan has been running in at least the upper 70s. The heat, which reduces oxygen content in water, has been blamed on fish kills statewide, including northern pike.
Madison firefighters are dealing with several grass fires per day. And the Department of Natural Resources has banned campfires and other outdoor burning--including smoking outdoors--in an additional six counties, adding to the 11 counties and portions of counties that were already prohibiting (including part of Dane County, but not Madison).
Meanwhile, farmers in more than 1,000 counties in 26 states to the south will receive federal assistance for drought conditions, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday. Farmers in those counties will be eligible for low-interest emergency loans, and will pay lower rents for letting livestock graze on conservation lands. Bloomberg News is reporting the federal natural disaster, covering about a third of the counties in the entire country, is the largest such designation the department has announced.
According to the department, about 78 percent of the nation’s corn crop is in areas currently experiencing drought, and in the 18 primary corn-growing states, about 30 percent of the crop is in poor or very poor condition. A water-intensive crop, corn needs at least 20 inches of precipitation in a growing season, but is most sensitive during the pollination phase of development--right now. Without sufficient water, the kernels may not develop.
With that in mind, Governor Walker declared a state drought emergency earlier this week, fast-tracking applications to divert water from streams or ponds for irrigation--an expensive prospect for any farmers who don’t already have systems in place. In light of low levels in some streams, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp is urging water conservation so that water may be saved for farm uses.
And to conserve water--and municipal pumping capacity--the City of Madison urged homeowners in late June to stop watering their lawns. Established lawns go dormant and require very little water--no more than about a quarter inch a week--and it takes as much as two months of drought to actually kill a lawn. If you must water, do so in the morning: noontime watering is more wasteful because higher rates of evaporation, especially with sprinklers that fling water up into the air.
The DNR has said that it will take several, soaking episodes of rain to re-hydrate vegetation enough to lift the burning bans. But in Madison, the National Weather Service is predicting highs to remain in the upper 80s and low 90s for the next week, mostly dry. The chance of rain gets as high as 50 percent Friday afternoon and Saturday, with an additional chance for storms starting Tuesday (probability 20 to 30 percent).
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at email@example.com.