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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Extreme Drought Grips Parts of South, Midwest

An extreme drought has taken hold in parts of nine states stretching from the Southeast to the lower Midwest, damaging crops, driving up the cost of keeping livestock and putting officials on alert for wildfires.

Climatologists say the dry weather likely will continue at least until spring, raising the possibility of prolonged drought in some areas next summer.

"Six months from now, we could be in a fairly significant drought situation throughout the Southeast," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, a federally funded center at the University of Nebraska that monitors drought conditions across the U.S. "The general pattern is going to show worsening."

Parts of Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida and southern Indiana are suffering "extreme drought," according to data expected to be released by the center Thursday.

That means the areas are experiencing the worst prolonged shortage of rain expected in a 25-year period. Montgomery, Ala., has seen just half an inch of rain so far this month. In Memphis, Tenn., the total is 0.01 inch.

Northeast of Memphis in Mason, Tenn., Marvene Twisdale and her husband have enough hay and water for now to feed their 10 cows. But several ponds have dried up on the farm. Ms. Twisdale, 67 years old, said the drought was the worst she has seen in 47 years there.

"I go outside every day, water my flowers and pray over them," she said. "We are waiting for rain to come."

One cause of the dryness is La NiƱa, a cooling of water temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean that has brought drier weather to the southeastern U.S. over the past several months.

In addition, the region hasn't been hit this year by major hurricanes or other big tropical storms, which often bring soaking rain this time of year.

In coming months, Mr. Fuchs expects more areas to be placed in the "extreme drought" category, second in severity to "exceptional drought."

Wildfires are on the rise in the lower Mississippi River valley and the Ohio River valley, according to forestry officials in several states. Trees are losing their leaves earlier because of the dryness, prompting bans on outdoor burning.

"We are anticipating some pretty big fires in the next few weeks," said Lynn True, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Yields for some cotton and soybean farmers in Alabama may be only half as large as normal this fall, said state climatologist John Christy. "Signs don't look good for a recovery anytime soon," he said.
 Wheat, cotton and peanut harvests have already shrunk in parts of the South, according to Mr. Christy and others. Ponds and creeks have dried up and many rivers have fallen.

Cattle farmers are stockpiling feed and hay, and setting up troughs for their livestock. Normally, cattle could just graze in pastures and drink from ponds or creeks, helping farmers avoid having to pay for feed.

Some livestock farmers have begun to sell off some of their herds to slaughterhouses and other farmers outside the region as the cost of keeping them rises, said Shane Gadberry, a professor with the University of Arkansas's Cooperative Extension Service.

"I don't remember one worse than this," said Gerald Scott, 65, who runs a 3,500-acre family farm in Henderson, Ken.

While the family was able to harvest most of its corn and soybean crop early, he is worried about next year.

Two lakes on his land are six or seven feet below normal levels, he said.

"If it doesn't start raining soon, it's going to be a problem come spring," he said.

posted by CASFS 2006 @ 9:31 PM


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