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Dry spell

After a soggy April and May, many are wondering: Where did the rain go?

Published: Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 10:48 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 1:17 p.m. CDT

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Last week was the hottest week in Iowa for 2013. Heat indexes soared into the triple digits and area schools without air conditioning were forced to send students home early.

Crops were suckerpunched by the heat blast, drying out corn and leaving soybeans begging for some moisture.

Drought memories from 2012 remain fresh in Iowans’ minds as they look to the sky wondering:

Where is the rain?

“We came into this growing season with an abundant amount of moisture, too much in some cases,” state climatologist Harry Hillaker said.

Since then, it’s been dry.

The most recent U.S. drought monitor map, released Thursday, shows parts of Union County in severe drought along with a majority of central Iowa. The southern part of Union County is ranked in moderate drought condition.

“Creston would be on the southern edge of the really dry area,” Hillaker said. “Probably a little drier than most of the state.”

Drought comparison

Even though the past two summers were burdened with droughts, Hillaker said there are a lot of differences between the two dry spells.

“Last year, we were in a hole before things even got started growing,” Hillaker said. “But when it comes to total amounts of rain, we had more rainfall last August than this past month.”

Union County soaked up 3.25 inches of precipitation in August 2012. This year the county has received less than an inch for the month, .93 inches.

The temperature range in 2013 was more extreme than the 2012 drought as well.

This year — around the time of the Iowa State Fair — cooler weather took the stress off of plants in need of moisture. Highs averaged in the upper 70s with evening temperatures dipping into the lower 40s,

Natural Resource Conservation Service District Conservationalist Wayde Ross said the wet spring and the cooler weather threw off the timing of a typically growing season.

“From Orient to Mount Ayr, there are crops out there in tough spots,” Ross said. “Especially on the hillside where there is more clay, the crops have turned a yellow color. There’s just no subsoil moisture.”

Impact

One of the few positives about dry weather late in the season is the smaller impact it takes on water levels.

While a majority of farm ponds and water sources are down, Hillaker said it hasn’t been dry long enough to make a similar impact that the 2012 drought did.

“There are so many variables from this year compared to last year,” Hillaker said. “Who got rain, who didn’t, when farmers were able to get in the field, temperature ... this year is just all over the place.”

Ross said the dry weather could affect some of the soil conservation projectes planned for the fall.

“Soil erosion is not as big of a problem in the fall,” Ross said. “We could really use some average rainfalls. It used to be we would get a nice rain that would keep farmers out of the field for two or three days. Now we just go from one extreme to the other.”

This year the government subsidized $2.8 million for farmers to try cover crops. Without a few rains to get the crops growing, Ross worries it will leave a bitter experience for first timers.

“When they spend all that money (on cover crops) and don’t get anything back out of it, that can be frustrating,” Ross said.

Other projects that could be in jeopardy if the drought continues are ponds, terraces or other erosion prevention practices.

Looking ahead

“Unfortunately the forecast is more or less the same conditions” Hillaker said. “Expect well above normal temperatures and not much prospect for rain.”

The current National Weather Service’s extend outlook — released Aug. 15 — predicts wetter than normal conditions later this fall, but Hillaker said the outlook is outdated.

“I’m not confident if they were to do it again today that they would find the same results,” Hillaker said.

The Creston area has a 20 percent chance of rain on Sunday, but temperatures remain warm, hovering in the lower 90s and upper 80s through the weekend.

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