Recent Rain Won’t Reverse Drought Effects in Illinois

Illinois has officially been in a drought since June 21. The state is dry and its crops are in danger of dying. Although we received rain during the week of July 16, it is nowhere near enough to reverse the effects of the drought.

Due to Illinois’ mild winter this year, it is no surprise the summer is hot and dry. The Illinois State and Water Survey’s (ISWS) update on April 10 acknowledged the heat and low rain levels, though it stated the probability of a drought was below 50 percent. As the summer progressed, the probability inched closer to 50 percent. On May 25, the ISWS issued a Drought Advisory which stated that the impact of the dry spell was not serious, but could be in the future. Precipitation levels were only 1 to 3 inches from March to May in the state of Illinois. In Southern Illinois, where conditions are the worst, these levels were 3 to 7 inches below normal. 

On June 21, Central and Southern Illinois were officially in a drought. Conditions had been getting worse all summer. The statewide average precipitation levels for June were 1.8 inches, 2.3 inches below normal. The statewide average precipitation levels from January to June were 12.6 inches, the sixth driest on record. 

The state of Illinois received some rain during the week of July 16. It was greatly welcomed, but not very significant. The statewide average precipitation from July 1 to 23 was 0.96 inches. This was only 40 percent of the normal amount for the time period. Since crop conditions are so poor, no amount of rain will be able to make production levels what they should be. 

The lack of rain mixed with 90 and 100 degree temperatures has had negative effects on Illinois crops. According to the July 2 Illinois Weather and Crop Report (IWCR), only 26 percent of corn and soybeans were labeled good to excellent. With circumstances worsening over the course of the month, the July 23 IWCR stated that now 36 percent of corn conditions were very poor, 30 percent poor, 27 percent fair, and 7 percent good. Soybean conditions were 24 percent very poor, 25 percent poor, 38 percent fair, 12 percent good, and 1 percent excellent. 

A bad crop year affects everyone. Farmers lose money and food prices rise. 

Illinois’ drought reminds us of the importance of water conservation. Water is extremely important to our well-being, so it should not be wasted. Water comprises 75 percent of the earth’s surface, though only 1 percent is fresh as opposed to salt. Whether you are in a drought or not, conserving water should always be a priority. 

Everyone can make a difference by conserving water. Some simple ways include taking shorter showers; using a water-saving showerhead, which uses the same amount of pressure with less water; turning off the water while brushing your teeth; flushing no more than necessary; watering plants in the morning, while the sun is at its lowest position; and don’t water the grass. It will recover after a drought. 

Being in a drought is tough. There is nothing we can do to make it rain. The only thing in our power is to conserve the water that we do have. 

Photo Credit: il.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/whip/ilwhip07_05.html.  

Dust Storms Sweep Over Arizona

It must have felt like an opening scene from the latest movie by big screen movie director Roland Emmerich, however it was much more real than any special effects provided by the flashiest of Hollywood productions. 

On Tuesday evening and into Wednesday morning, a dust storm that can only be described as massive, crept slowly over a large portion of the Arizona landscape.  With winds urging the movement between 30 and 60 miles per hour. The storm which was believed to have originated in Tucson, eventually spread itself out to a larger part of the Phoenix area, covering upwards of 50 miles of land across.  By the time it had reached the city of Phoenix it had shrunk to an estimated height of 5,000 feet.

This may not seem like any size to scoff at, but before arriving to this city it was estimated by meteorologist, Paul Iniguez from the National Weather Service, to have hit a peak height of somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 feet high.  As an obvious example of extreme weather, this dust storm covered vast areas of cities limiting the visibility almost down to little to none. This proved a headache to many motorists as traffic woes multiplied and fears ran high.

Additionally, the storm had caused damage by pushing over trees as it moved along as well as sparking fires from active live wires.  In parts of rural Tempe, Arizona, a fire broke out due to such conditions but were quickly, and fortunately, abated by local authorities.

One area that was not so lucky was Youngker High School in Buckeye, Arizona. The school was hit by the dust storm and afterwards it was apparent that the damage done here would not be quite as easy to fix.  Large pieces of metal roofing sheets that sat atop a school building were torn up and away from the walls, leaving for a costly fix.

For the most part, clean up is the biggest problem with estimates of damage not known at the time.

We have seen events like this in the past. Perhaps one of the most memorable will have us recall the images that were taken from the events of the Dust Bowl of the earlier part of the last century.  While these particular dust storms gained their notoriety because of the many farming families and individuals displaced at this time with their livelihood and homes destroyed, the more recent storm is proof that although many practices may be changed, nature is not so easy to keep under control.

Videos of the recent Arizona dust storms are flooding all over the internet, taken by residents and local bystanders to show a landscape completely taken over by the dark cloud. This particular video shows the nighttime skyline lost to a seemingly endless cloud of dust.  The bright night lights of the city are slowly enveloped by a wall stretching from the tops of the skyscrapers to the bottom of the clouds.

While the damage of dust storms is not typical of other natural phenomena—like tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like—there is definite damage control and clean up that the Arizona area will have to take into consideration.

Dust storms, in general, can be seen as a sign that conditions of the land may be a distance away from the ideal. With the erosion and misuse of an area’s topsoil, poor irrigation and farming techniques, perhaps they come as a warning against future use and possible abuse.

Overall, dust storms remain a sight to be seen, just as long as all those in the path are able to find a nice comfortable place indoors before it gets too close.

Photo Credit: i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01939/phoenix-sand-3_1939086b.jpg

Severe Storms Threaten to Flood Missouri Towns

Flooding in Missouri increased today as water from the Black River continued to spill over a levee guarding the town of Poplar Bluff. Although the levee is still intact, town officials are concerned it might break and inundate Poplar Bluff with flood waters. In preparation for the potential of a levee break and full on flood, the town has evacuated over 1,000 homes in the area.
With water already spilling over the levee and into the town, rescue crews have had their hands full. Yesterday, 59 people had to be rescued from flooded sections of the town. Fortunately, no deaths or injuries have been reported.
Unfortunately, weather forecasters are calling for more heavy rainstorms to hit the already-water logged region. Towns throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys are being threatened by the rising floodwaters.
The storms which have been raging since last week have so far affected a giant region of the nation, including Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri. Storms are expected to move into Illinois and Wisconsin today.

The “Meeting” of Mercury and Mars

mercury-mars-venus-jupiterWant to see a rare sight in the sky? You’ll have to set your alarm clock to 6:30 a.m. your local time or just before the sunrise look towards the sun. On Tuesday morning, April 19, the planets Mercury and Mars will appear to meet in the sky. In actuality, they will be separated by about 161 million miles in space. But, when viewed from the Earth’s surface they will only appear about four moon widths apart from each other.

The keys to viewing this natural phenomenon is to look to the eastern sky during the morning twilight. You will need a viewpoint that is low to the eastern horizon with few obstructions in the way, and a pair of binoculars. Make sure the sun’s light is being obstructed before looking into your binoculars at Mercury and Mars. Looking directly into the sun with binoculars is not advised and could be damaging to your eyes. Looking just above the horizon as the sun is coming up will provide for the optimum planetary view.

So, you don’t know where Mercury and Mars are, or need help locating them in the sky? Here are a few astronomical pointers. You can always use the much brighter planets of Venus and Jupiter as visual aids. Jupiter will be the brightest planet directly to the right of the sun during the morning sunrise. Venus will be the brightest planet to the diagonally upper right of Jupiter. Between Jupiter and Venus, will be Mercury and Mars. Mercury will appear slightly higher than Mars. Both Mercury and Mars should appear dimmer in the sky, when diagonally in between the brighter Jupiter and Venus. Once you have located these planet’s enjoy the view and sunrise.

Forget to wake up early or busy? Don’t worry about it, there are many upcoming conjunctions of planets in the months of April and May. Just quickly review your planetary alignment and don’t forget to bring your camera, these dates may provide for stunning photographic opportunities.

April 19: Mercury and Mars

April 22: Venus and Uranus

May 1: Mars and Jupiter

May 8: Mercury and Venus

May 10: Mercury and Jupiter

May 11: Venus and Jupiter

May 18: Mercury and Venus (repeated)

May 20: Mercury and Mars (repeated)

May 22: Venus and Mars

Photo credit: grc.nasa.gov

Hurricane Earl Poised to Grow to Category 3 Hurricane (Update: Earl Grows to Category 4)

[img_assist|nid=190787|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=201]August 30 -(Update: Hurricane Earl strengthens into a Category 4 storm with winds of 135 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.)

As the hurricane season heats up, Hurricane Earl is poised to become a Category 3 hurricane that could brush the U.S. eastern seaboard in the next few days.

The National Hurricane Center has reported Earl as having winds close to 110 mph and is trending on a northwesterly track towards North Carolina. A direct hit on that state cannot be ruled out, yet is not likely at this time.

Earl currently poses little treat to the Gulf of Mexico and the oil operations in that region, including the BP oil spill clean-up efforts.

Behind Earl, another Atlantic weather system is ramping up, carrying heavy showers and thunderstorms. Currently about 1,000 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, the storm has a 90% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone within the next two days.