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Drought likely to worsen

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | SILVER SPRING, MD | February 25, 2000

SILVER SPRING, MD (Feb. 25, 2000) -- Drought -- which has already severely impacted farmers -- will likely continue across the mid-west and south, according the National Weather Service.

In its monthly report on drought and water supply, the weather service indicated that much of the south, west of the Appalachian Mountains to Texas, and the

mid-west, from Ohio west to Nebraska and Kansas, were declared drought areas by state and federal officials.

Continued declines in precipitation and higher-than-normal temperatures

have prolonged the dry conditions in the mid-Atlantic area as well. In that region, Family Farm Drought Response, an ecumenical coalition established in late August, has been addressing critical rural needs. Many farmers are facing the winter with severe hay shortages, unmanageable debt, and severe emotional strain.

Leaders from Family Farm Drought Response and Church World Service attended a forum about long-term drought at the headquarters of the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, MD. Participants discussed how more consistent communication between government agencies and response organizations would, in turn, help formulate a more effective public message regarding drought response and mitigation.

The group discussed how drought differs from other disasters because there may be less perceived danger, as well as a longer evolution and resolution. As a result, the public may be more likely to become complacent about drought. The group also surmised that, if the general public is not knowledgeable about food supply and farmers, they won't realize the hardship drought inflicts on farm families.

Drought conditions have worsened over the past month across 15 counties of

western Pennsylvania. Rainfall has been .5 to two inches below normal,

according to the National Weather Service office in Pittsburgh. Long-term deficits range from 10 to 20 percent below normal. Mandatory restrictions have been lifted, but residents are still asked to voluntarily restrict water use. The weather service encourages residents to wash cars less frequently, wash full loads in dishwashers and washing machines, repair leaks in faucets, install low-flow shower heads, and place weighted plastic jugs in older toilet tanks to displace water.

Over much of the Middle Ohio Valley, moderate-to-severe drought continues as well, according to the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, Ohio. Drought conditions gripped the region during May of last year.

"Currently, it will take three to six inches of precipitation absorbed into

the soil for most of the area just to replenish the deficit incurred since last May," the weather service reported. The service predicts severe drought in northern Kentucky, central Ohio, southwest Ohio, and east central Indiana.

Midwinter sees drought conditions across Iowa, northwest and west central

Illinois and northeast Missouri, according to the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Precipitation and temperature information shows winter thus far has been warmer than normal and has had more precipitation than the past six months, but that the last 12 months has been one of the driest periods in recent history.

According to the Iowa State Climatologist's office, the past five months (September through January) were the fourth driest months on record since the winter of 1976-1977. Precipitation in central Iowa ranged from 25 to 50 percent of what is considered normal. Drought indexes continue to show drought over northwest portions of central Iowa. Conditions there remain severe. Iowa climatologists said that precipitation is critical to the success of the 2000

planting season.

The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, also reported diminishing precipitation and higher-than-normal temperatures across most of the nation. The center currently reports the south-central and southeastern states welcomed some precipitation, but not enough to quell drought conditions.

Patterns of dry weather continue in the southern plains, and below-normal

precipitation continues in the Delta and southeast states, along with above average temperatures.

Only the extreme northwest and extreme northeast states have not been affected by the current drought.

Agriculture around the Rocky Mountains and in the west has not yet been affected by the drought, but the wet season has not yet been established. In Colorado, the drought has directly affected skiing this winter. "A shortage of snow has hit ski lodges hard," said John Few, president of the Colorado Ski Country USA. "The whole ski industry is suffering from a snow drought of nearly 17 percent

decreases" from the average snowfall. Vail resorts reported attendance down 9

percent from the average.

Even in Hawaii -- known for its daily showers -- rain dampened most of Oahu and the eastern Big Island at the beginning of the month, but little or no rain and below-normal temperatures were observed across the remainder of the island state.

Because of the continuing drought, U.S. Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman

recently declared 73 Oklahoma counties, nine Oregon counties, 81 Mississippi counties, and 17 counties in Iowa eligible for Farm Service Agency emergency farm loans, because of losses caused by drought that occurred from early last year which continues. Last fall Glickman declared Georgia and 65 counties in Alabama as agricultural disasters due to the 1999 drought.

In Iowa, mild winter weather has continued to benefit livestock, but has done little to relieve the shortage of subsoil moisture. The same is true in eastern Kansas. Many mid-west states and local governments have placed bans on open

burning.

In Texas, 120 of 254 counties, primarily in central and east Texas, are now

under outdoor burning bans. Major reservoirs are at their lowest levels in 23 years. Stream flow is below normal, and 57 public water supplies are currently rationing to prevent outages.

Posted Feb. 25, 2000


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