LOCAL

We could be in a 'flash drought'

JOHN R. PULLIAM / GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

The hottest weather of the summer is expected to blast the area this week, with record high temperatures possible.

Meanwhile, there's no rain in the immediate forecast as a bone-dry August, coupled with a drier-than-normal July, has the Galesburg area on the brink of a "flash drought."

July is normally the hottest month of summer in this area and, until now, that was the case. The most recent high temperature of 90 degrees or higher came July 20, the last of a five-day string of 90-plus highs.

August is normally the beginning of a gradual cool-down as autumn approaches.

"In August, we typically start the month in the mid-80s and it gets progressively cooler from there," Darrin Harnsing of the National Weather Service office in Lincoln said of high temperatures.

"The overall outlook, at least for the next two weeks, the likelihood is greater than 40 percent for above-normal temperatures," Harnsing said.

He warned temperatures will not be the only concern.

"Temperatures may be in the mid-90s, but it will feel warmer than that with the humidity levels," Warnsing said, adding that the daily heat index may hit 100 degrees or more some days next week.

Meanwhile, a year that started out very wet, bringing the area out of a drought, took a turn for the worse in July. Although the 34.82 inches of precipitation recorded in Galesburg this year is already well more than 2012's 29.43 inches, 20.20 inches of this year's total came in April and May. After the precipitation total reached 31.64 inches through June 30, the spigot was turned to off. The 3.18 inches of rain in July and August — just 0.22 inch this month — is well below the average of 8.35 inches.

As a result, most of the northern two-thirds of the state, including all of west-central Illinois, is now classified as "abnormally dry." Three months ago, only 19.32 percent of the state fell into that category. That number edged up to 27.18 percent by Aug. 13 and jumped to 44.95 percent Aug. 20, the most recent report.

"We kind of have a special name for this kind of drought," said state Climatologist Jim Angel. "We call it a 'flash drought.' It can go from pretty good to pretty bad very quickly."

Angel said a "classic" drought, such as the one the area experienced in 2012, takes about three to six months to develop. A flash drought takes place after six to eight weeks of little or no rain.

He said although there has been little rain since June, "with the cool temperatures, we were OK."

Angel said based on U.S. Department of Agriculture reports and his personal observations, "The crops, they still look pretty good across much of the state. That could start to change with the hot weather. Things could start to change in a hurry."

He explained, "If the crops are still OK, it's hard to call it a drought."

In fact, Angel said, the hot weather may be welcomed by farmers, at least for the corn crop. He said cooler weather raised some concerns about the rate corn was maturing. The most recent report by the Illinois Department of Agriculture backs up Angel's assessment.

"The dry conditions and cool temperatures are affecting grain development and delaying crop maturity progress," according to the department's Aug. 19 Agricultural Summary. The week before the report, temperatures statewide averaged seven degrees below normal. The Aug. 19 report showed 61 percent of topsoil moisture either short or very short. Sixty-four percent of the corn crop was still rated as good or excellent, with 65 percent of the soybean crop in those categories.

The benefits of hot weather are "especially true of corn," Angel said. "Conventional wisdom is July is the critical month for corn and August for soybeans. So, corn might do better weathering the storm."