Drought Stress Blankets Indiana, Likely Continues into Harvest

September 11, 2011 08:45 PM

The abnormally dry and drought conditions that most of Indiana is experiencing don't appear to change as farmers statewide prepare for harvest, according to the associate state climatologist.

Indiana is at the eastern end of a Midwest drought region, which has been classified as severe and covers much of central Illinois and part of southeast Iowa, said Ken Scheeringa of the Indiana State Climate Office at Purdue University. Ohio has fared better, as the state had almost no drought areas as of the Sept. 6 U.S. Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor update.
Dry conditions are categorized on a scale from D0 (drought watch, or abnormally dry) to D4 (exceptional drought). Nearly all of Indiana has reached at least D0, with moderate drought (D1) covering much of the southern half of the state. More severe drought (D2) blankets an area in Johnson and Morgan counties in the central part of the state.
"The historical drought in Texas is creeping northward, with Oklahoma following closely in terms of its drought features," said Dev Niyogi, Indiana State Climatologist. "The swatch of drought-prone area is now reaching parts of the Midwest, particularly along southern Indiana."
Part of what has contributed to the dry conditions is La Nina -- a weather pattern that occurs when the surface temperature of vast areas of the Pacific Ocean are cooler by at least 1 degree Fahrenheit.
"Indiana's weather patterns have been sensitive to La Nina," Scheeringa said. "Studies conducted at the Indiana Climate Office suggest that typically winter and early spring La Nina patterns lead to excess rains, and in late summer Indiana experiences abnormally dry conditions. The current status of the swings from a wet early spring to late-season drought is consistent with the La Nina signature."
Another contributing factor is the storm tracks.
While the continued dry conditions may not be ideal for late-developing crops around the state, Scheeringa did forecast good harvesting conditions.
The Indiana outlook is for normal to slightly below normal temperatures throughout harvest, with slightly lower than normal rainfall.
"We don't see any real interruptions to harvest as the present tropical storm track seems to be just east of Indiana," Scheeringa said. "Ohio may see more impacts of hurricane remnants than Indiana will. But the tropical storm track is always a big uncertainty in terms of turning the drought region into a flood-prone area. So we need to watch that carefully."
Although Indiana has been at the end of the lingering La Nina, he said there are indications of resurgence. If this holds true, this fall and winter are likely to mirror the last -- although the pattern started a bit earlier this year.
"The timing seems a bit earlier than a year ago," Scheeringa said. "For example, the dry conditions started a few weeks earlier than last year. But if the La Nina pattern of a year ago virtually repeats itself, then we are likely to see a rerun of last winter's conditions."
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