Ohio’s worst drought in decades could persist or worsen through October and lead to higher food prices and restrictions on water usage and outdoor burning, according to federal, state and local officials.
State officials are “terribly concerned” about the drought, which is rapidly depleting both topsoil moisture and the quality of corn and soybean crops, said Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Typically, water tables will start to shrink during a prolonged drought. “We are going to have to put in a lot of conservation measures for people to try to conserve water because the resources are starting to deplete,” Pitchford said.
Conservation measures are not yet being discussed “because we had so much rain last year,” she said.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said drought conditions in Ohio and much of the continental U.S. will persist or intensify through Oct. 31.
More than 98 percent of the state was in drought as of Tuesday, up from 78 percent last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Since July 1, much of the Midwest has experienced subnormal rainfall and abnormal warmth, further increasing the drought and adversely impacting agriculture, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned Wednesday that the drought afflicting more than half the country would trigger “significant increases in prices” for both corn and soybeans into 2013. Both crops are used in a wide variety of food and other products.
A dramatic shift in the weather pattern is required to provide significant relief to this drought, NOAA officials said. Unfortunately, thunderstorm systems don’t have enough moisture to develop or strengthen because of the Midwest’s very dry soil and limited return of water vapor to the atmosphere.
“The long-term outlook over the next month, and in fact the next three months, is for below-average rainfall to continue, above-average temperatures to continue, so there is no reason to expect any real improvement in the drought any time soon,” said Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist Jamie Simpson.
Recent rainfall in the Dayton area has been beneficial, with some areas receiving two to three inches of rain, but the region’s rainfall total for the year was eight to nine inches below normal before the drought, Simpson said.
“We’ve taken a little bit away from that deficit, but certainly not enough to make a difference or improve the drought whatsoever,” he said.
Many Ohio farmers are coping with stressed crops and rapidly depleting topsoil moisture, according to state agricultural data.
State topsoil moisture for the seven-day period ending July 13 was rated 63 percent very dry, 31 percent dry, 6 percent adequate and 0 percent surplus.
As of Friday, 47 percent of corn statewide was in very poor-to-poor condition, down from 36 percent the previous week. Forty-two percent of soybeans were in very poor-to-poor condition, down from 36 percent the previous week.
“If the hot, dry weather continues and there is no relief whatsoever we are going to start seeing those numbers decline even more,” Pitchford said. At this point, maximum crop yields are unlikely most anywhere in the state, she said.
Widespread crop damage could lead to higher food prices, but those costs probably won’t be passed on to consumers until after the harvest season, Pitchford said. The state agriculture department is working with Attorney General Mike Dewine’s office to protect consumers against food price gouging, she said.
Five Rivers MetroParks has banned open fires at its facilities because of high temperatures and low humidity. People camping at MetroParks are permitted to cook using only charcoal in grills.
Fires from cigarettes tossed into dry grass could be “devastating” to both the parks and wildlife, said MetroParks spokeswoman Val Beerbower.
Nearly 67,000 seedling trees planted in recent years at a number of MetroParks also are at risk because of the drought and volunteers are needed to help with watering, she said.