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Drought returning? Dryness sparks concerns

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A spring season in which the rains never seemed to end has been followed by a dry summer, in which the rains in Kane County appear to have ended.

And that has prompted meteorologists to again begin uttering a word that had become all too common in 2012: drought.

“The strange thing is, all told, we’ve received a normal amount of rain for the year to date,” said Gilbert Sebenste, meteorologist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. “But the distribution of the rain was so lopsided earlier in the year.

“Right now, bizarre as it may sound, we’re headed back into drought.”

For much of the year, such talk seemed unthinkable, Sebenste said.

From January to June, the region logged about 27 inches of moisture – 3 inches more rain than had been recorded in all of 2012.

Last year, severe drought spurred by hot, dry weather from early spring into fall had plagued northern Illinois and much of the rest of the country, depleting moisture in the soil and severely affecting crop yields.

But this spring, as record high rains fell, meteorologists and climatologists declared the drought had ended.

However, since July 1, the weather patterns have changed significantly, Sebenste said, resulting in continued cool, but much drier weather.

From July 1 to Aug. 21, the region had logged only about 20 percent of its normal rainfall, with about 1 to 2 inches falling in the area.

The region normally should have received about 6 inches of rain in that time, Sebenste said.

The mounting dryness and water deficiency has prompted the U.S. Drought Monitor to again declare much of Illinois as “abnormally dry.”

And the soil moisture levels have again declined, according to the Illinois State Water Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ISWS, for instance, reported that moisture levels in the top 2 inches of soil at its observation site in St. Charles declined by about 60 percent since June 1.

Sebenste said the chances of escaping the dry pattern in August are slim, as the odds of receiving significant rains are rapidly diminishing.

Joe White, an Elburn farmer and president of the Kane County Farm Bureau, said his crops are showing ill effects, as corn kernel growth is being stunted and soybeans have shown signs of wilt.

“If you were looking at 200 bushels per acre of corn, now it’s 180 bushels, maybe,” White said. “Still better than last year, but not as good as it was looking to be.”

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