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September 5, 2013

Drought returns to a slice of northwest Indiana

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Drought has crept back into part of Indiana, reflecting weeks of dry conditions following a wet winter and spring that eliminated the remnants of the devastating drought of 2012.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday (Sept. 5) showed that four counties in northwest Indiana - Benton, Newton, Warren and Lake - are now in moderate drought. Until this week, nearly half of the state was abnormally dry - the lowest level of dryness - a condition that continues in most of the central counties and some northern counties.

"We were expecting moderate drought to be introduced into the state this week," said Ken Scheeringa, associate climatologist with the Indiana State Climate office, based at Purdue University. "Rainfall has been scarce in most counties for a few weeks now. Drought conditions in Illinois were worsening and on the move eastward and have now reached Indiana."

State Climatologist Dev Niyogi said the central portion of the state could move into moderate drought next week if that area does not get enough rain and continues to lose water. He said his office will continue to monitor the situation closely.

No rain was in the forecast for the remainder of this week, but chances for rain next week were expected to be near normal, according to the climate office. Near-normal temperatures also were forecast for that week, with above-normal temperatures the following week.

Crops have been in dire need of meaningful rainfall for weeks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 80 percent of Indiana's corn crop was in good to excellent condition in mid-July, but that has fallen to 66 percent for the week ending Aug. 31. For soybeans, 74 percent was rated good to excellent in mid-July, compared with 62 percent now.

As September approached, rain was needed within days to prevent the crops from deteriorating further. Some of that rain arrived over the Labor Day weekend, with portions of southern Indiana receiving 2 to more than 4 inches. The heaviest rains came Sept. 1, mostly in the extreme southwest and southeast. The central and northern parts of the state were not as fortunate, although some areas received more than an inch of rain.

Purdue Extension soybean specialist Shaun Casteel said the rain helped, but how much depends on the amount of rain plants received relative to their stage of development and the drought stress they were under. A half-inch might not have been enough for some stressed plants to avoid dropping their pods; more rain likely would have prevented that and helped them to fill out the seeds.

Drought last year that began in May shriveled crops during the summer, resulting in low yields at harvest, and led to bans of fireworks, campfires and watering of lawns. It lasted until February after frequent precipitation in the winter recharged soils with adequate moisture.

In the spring, rain continued to the point where the ground was so saturated that farmers were delayed in planting crops.

Then, in what has become a topsy-turvy year of weather, the summer turned cool but dry, leaving the state below normal in rainfall.

Writer: Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu 

Sources: Dev Niyogi, state climatologist, 765-494-6574, climate@purdue.edu

Ken Scheeringa, associate state climatologist, 765-494-8105, kens@purdue.edu

Shaun Casteel, 765-494-0895, scasteel@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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