The Summer Without Rain

In some areas of the country, this summer will go down in history as the driest on record. As of mid-August, drought affected over 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states, with almost a quarter of the country experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. Hardest hit was a large swath extending from the Central Rockies eastward through the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. The affects of the record-breaking drought were far-reaching and devastating, particularly to agricultural areas. According to the USDA, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas all reported more than 90 percent of their pastures and rangelands in poor or very poor conditions. The ripple effect of the drought will probably be evident in your grocery bill and at the pump. In late August, consumers were already watching gas prices climb, due in part to the rising price of ethanol, caused by the lowest-yielding corn crops in years. And, the USDA warned that due to the drought, Americans should expect to pay 3 to 5 percent more for groceries over the next year, particularly for chicken, beef, pork and dairy.

America’s trees were certainly not exempt from the harmful effects of the drought. In particular, very young and very old trees, already stressed from lack of water, are becoming heavily damaged by pests. Drought-affected trees are also more susceptible to diseases and fungi, like verticillium wilt and Cytospora canker, and the urban forest is losing trees at alarming rates. Tree farms, as well, are being devastated by the heat and lack of rain. One Christmas tree farmer in Michigan reported that he lost about 4,000 of his 10,000 newly planted trees to drought-related causes, and the industry overall could be down as much as 50 percent this year.

Is there any relief in sight? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center expects that we have seen the worst, and drought conditions should level out in large sections of the central Mississippi Valley, the central and southwestern Great Plains, most of the High Plains, the central Rockies, the Great Basin and parts of the Far West through November. Much of the central Rockies, the Southwest, the southern Great Plains, the Ohio Valley, the Great Lakes region, the upper Midwest and the eastern tier of states may even see an improvement. Still, the effects of the worst drought this country has seen in decades will be evident in the urban forest, and elsewhere, for months to come.

Katie Meyers