Iowa Public Television


Weather Woes Stretch Across the Country

posted on July 15, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer are definitely living up to their reputation as the hottest, most sultry days of the year. An excessive heat watch is in effect for most of the Midwest through at least the middle of next week. Heat indices, which factor both temperature and humidity, are expected to range from 100 - 115 degrees.

But the mercury in thermometers is already well above the century mark across much of the south. In North Carolina, about 50,000 chickens died at a farm after the power went off for less than an hour. 4,300 turkeys met a similar fate in Kansas where the heat index soared to 118 degrees Sunday.

The heat and humidity are proving to be a lethal combination throughout the south where producers were already coping with unprecedented drought.

 The nation’s top cattle producing state of Texas is enduring a drought of epic proportions.  Arid conditions continue to blanket much of the Lone Star State, where residents experienced the driest 9-month period and hottest June on record.

More than 90 percent of the state is rated in the two most severe stages of drought. 

Pastures and water sources have withered under the hot sun. And now there are reports of livestock dying -- not from a lack of water, but too much of it. Hoping to quench insatiable thirst, cattle have to over hydrate, setting off what can become a fatal electrolyte balance.  So far, an exact number of cattle deaths has not been tallied.

Farther north, too much water is also a problem. Along the Missouri River, high water still covers hundreds of thousands of acres, but the end may be coming into focus.

This week, the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers announced a reduction of outflow from five of six dams along the river. The Corps plans to reduce discharges from Gavin’s Point -- the final water regulation stretching from South Dakota to near St. Louis -- to 150,000 cubic feet per second by early August.  

But the threat of levee breaches still looms in Missouri as heavy snow melt and rainfall continues to make its way downstream.    

And the heart of the Corn Belt was slammed by unusually strong winds early this week. Damage was confined to a narrow band that stretched from central Iowa all the way to Canada.

The National Weather Service called the storm a derecho, a system of sustained winds associated with rapidly moving showers and thunderstorms.

Winds from this particular storm ranged from 80 to 105 miles per hour and the gusts pushed corn plants over in many locations.

Early damage estimates ran into the hundreds of thousands of acres, but current estimates amount to only about 10 percent of that amount.

In central Iowa, some of the corn took only a few hours to show signs of recovery. A closer look at the damaged crop shows very little of the serious problem known as green snap, but instead suffers from a different condition called root lodging.

Jim Fawcett, Agronomist, Iowa State University Extension: “Because we had a lot of rain with the wind, at least the rain came very fast with the wind, it kind of liquefied the top few inches of soil. The roots just shifted in the soil, they tipped instead of breaking the stalks, the corn plant just tipped over.”

The damage also impacted grain bins, farm buildings and homes in its path. Some seed corn fields may be abandoned because of the damage, but that appears to be limited in scope.

The next week will determine the full extent of the damage, but the timing of the storm could actually be a mixed blessing.

Jim Fawcett, Agronomist, Iowa State University Extension: “I don’t know if it was ideal, but if it was a week later, it would have been worse, it would have been right during pollination and teaseling, and then it would have affected pollination more, now it has a week or two to recover, get the tassels up, get the ears up a bit, get better pollination. If it would have been a week or two sooner, I think we would have had a little more green snap.

 According to Fawcett, yield losses of 10 to 30 percent may be realistic for these downed crops. But a new set of problems could be exposed in this side-laying condition.

Jim Fawcett, Agronomist, Iowa State University Extension: “I think there’s maybe a little more potential for disease with these fields that have flattened out because now you’ve got these leaves are closer to the ground where the fungal spores are, you had rain with it, there’s going to more moisture and humidity down in that canopy, it could be we could benefit from the fungicides, a lot will depend on what the rest of the season is and what the weather is later this summer.”

Tags: agriculture animals drought floods livestock news storms summer weather