Iowa suffers from late summer drought

Photo by Patrick Denker, Flickr

One third of the state of Iowa is suffering from a drought, and these little bits of rain have done close to nothing to help either.

More from the Des Moines Register below:

For Iowans looking at parched lawns and prematurely yellowed corn, the rain that came earlier this week was welcome.

Trouble is, it wasn’t enough. And there doesn’t seem to be enough in sight.

“We had an inch or so on Tuesday in the Des Moines area, and we needed it, but we need another inch or so of a good soaking rain to make the lawns green up,” said Iowa State University Extension horticulturist Richard Jauron.

A scorching July and a dry summer have created drought conditions in about a third of the state, including central Iowa. Crops have suffered, with some predicting the worst yields in five years.

The National Weather Service said Thursday that central Iowa might get between one-tenth and one-quarter of an inch by early Saturday.

Jauron did assure lawn caregivers, worried about their yellowed patches, that it isn’t necessary to run up a huge watering bill.

“Grass can go dormant for several weeks and come back with moisture,” he said. “A yellow lawn doesn’t mean a dead lawn.”

The Kentucky bluegrass most common for Iowa lawns likes about 1 inch of moisture per week.

But Iowa hasn’t been getting that much. The hottest July since 1955 was followed by an August with total rainfall of 3.02 inches, below the average August rainfall of 4.18 inches.

The 3.37 inches in July was 0.88 inches below normal for that month.

June was wetter than normal, with 6.27 inches, 1.6 inches more than average.

Before Tuesday, “our last rain in central Iowa that totaled more than two-thirds of an inch happened on June 25,” said state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

Those two months of dry weather follow four years of what have been above-average rainfall years for Iowa.

The National Drought Monitor map this week displayed a yellow swath of abnormally dry conditions in northwest Iowa giving way to moderate drought in central Iowa and culminating in severe drought in 11 counties in southeast Iowa.

The National Weather Service on Thursday posted a heat advisory for southeast Iowa for the area generally bordered by Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa, Burlington and Keokuk.

Conditions here are not as bad as the drought that has hit Texas and Oklahoma, which is considered the worst in a century and has caused entire pastures and timberland to burst into flame.

Iowa’s drought and heat, besides wilting flowers and browning urban lawns, is doing damage to the corn crop.

Hot weather during pollination reduced the size of ears and the number of kernels.

Since then the forecasts for Iowa’s corn crop have dropped steadily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in early August that Iowa would average 177 bushels per acre, down from 182 bushels in 2009 but an improvement over the flood-soaked 165 bushels per acre last year.

But the continued dryness has prompted private forecasters to drop the projection for Iowa’s yields to as low as 164 bushels per acre, the number the Professional Farmers of America tour posted late last week.

Those numbers set off a fresh rally for corn prices on the Chicago Board of Trade, pushing the December contract for corn above $7 per bushel and generating predictions of continued tight supplies of corn for livestock feeders and ethanol plants going into 2012.

Farmers said the rain that fell on Iowa last week didn’t help the corn crop.

“We got three-quarters of an inch of rain, which will help the soybeans, but it’s too late for the corn,” said John Heisdorffer, who farms west of Washington in what has been one of the driest areas of the state.

Heisdorffer said the cornfields in his area have shown the characteristic yellowing and drooping leaves associated with excess heat and lack of moisture.

“In a good year we expect to get 180 to 200 bushels per acre,” Heisdorffer said. “We won’t be close to that this year.”

In western Iowa, the situation is much the same. Brian Larson, whose Sunderman Farm Management of Fort Dodge manages farms in and around Webster County, pegged average yields at around 150 to 160 bushels per acre, well below the 200 bushels per acre Iowa can produce in a robust year.

“Six weeks ago this was looking like a really fine crop,” Larson said. “Now it will be only average, if that.”

The National Weather Service forecasts a chance of thunderstorms, with rainfalls totaling no more than a quarter-inch, through Saturday with clear weather through Labor Day. High temperatures will cool from the upper 90s Thursday to the mid-70s by Sunday.

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