Monday, November 22, 1999

Warm weather prolongs drought


Tristate better off than most

BY JUAN A. LOZANO
The Associated Press
and BEN L. KAUFMAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The calendar says mid-November, but you wouldn't know it by the summery temperatures and lack of rain in Texas, Georgia, Iowa and the Tristate.

        Forests are becoming tinderboxes. Ranchers are using up feed that should be reserved for winter. Farmers fear their crops could die.

        And there's little relief in sight.

        “The prospects of recovering from such a drought are minimal because of the drier-than-normal and warmer-than-normal winter we're expected to have,” said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “This drought is made worse by the lingering effects from droughts the last few years.”

        “That sounds right to me,” Scott Hickman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, said Sunday. By NWS standards, the Tristate drought is moderate rather than severe, he said.

        The region has received 28.55 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, he said, against the normal rain and snowfall of 37 inches.

        Worse, there is nothing to suggest that pattern will break, even if showers occurs as predicted Tuesday night and Wednesday, Mr. Hickman said.

        However, rain and ground water have kept the Ohio River and its major tributaries at or near normal levels, the weather service said.

        The dry, mild weather expected this winter is being attributed in part to La Nina, the global weather phenomenon marked by cooler-than-normal water in the eastern Pacific.

        Moist air from the Pacific is shifting farther north than usual, leaving the South and Southwest drier and warmer than normal.

        Kentucky is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in recent memory. Farmers stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, with growers of corn, soybeans and wheat expected to bear the brunt of the financial blow.

        More than 25,000 acres of Kentucky forest burned earlier this month on top of 50,000 acres that had been burned this summer.

        Then on Saturday, an eastern Kentucky forest fire reignited. It already had scorched 1,500 acres in Pike County.

        The 13 states represented in the Southern Compact of firefighters learned that Kentucky needed assistance in protecting structures from the fire. Pumpers and personnel arrived from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.

        In Dallas-Fort Worth, that area has broken its 72-year-old record of 11 consecutive days of 80-degree temperatures in November. Normal highs for this time of year are in the mid-60s.

        Oklahoma also has had record highs in the 80s this month. Temperatures at Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn., have been in the upper 70s instead of the normal 50s and 60s.

        Mr. Svoboda said most of Texas, Louisiana and Indiana are in what his center rates a “severe drought.” Georgia, Tennessee and most of the Midwest also are in the midst of a drought, with some pockets considered severe.

        The drought center monitors conditions with five categories, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought,” with “severe” falling in the middle.

        Southeast Texas rancher Todd Davison had set aside hay to feed his 1,500 head of cattle this winter, but because of the dry weather he had to start feeding it to the animals in September.

        The lack of precipitation has increased the danger of wildfires in many Texas forests, said Tom Spencer of the Texas Forest Service.

        In addition, the weakened trees are more likely to be damaged by insects, said Lanny Dreesen, an extension forester with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.

        Missouri has averaged less than 8 inches of rainfall from July through October. Normally, it gets 14 or 15 inches for that period, said Pat Guinan, a climatologist with University of Missouri in Columbia.

        “A lot of farmers are in a real cash crunch. It's going to be a tough winter,” said Kyle Vickers, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture in Jefferson City.

        Hunters also are noticing the difference. Waterfowl are bypassing dry central Louisiana in favor of coastal areas, said Tommy Prickett, a wildlife division chief for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

        Enquirer reporter Susan Vela contributed.

       



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