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It's been a hot, dry summer

  • It's been a hot, dry summer
    Copyright 2012
Published August 01. 2012 05:02PM

It's storming. Again.

Lately, it seems to be raining every week. But, according to the National Weather Service, so far this year most counties in Pennsylvania have gotten less precipitation than average.

It's been a hot, dry summer, weather experts say.

In our area, Schuylkill has gotten 25.5 inches of precipitation so far, about 4.4 inches below normal. Carbon County has logged 22.6 inches, 4.1 inches below normal, and Monroe County has gotten 20.8 inches, 6.2 inches below average, according to the National Weather Service.

While the amounts of rain and snow are below average, they have not pushed the state into drought status.

"The rainfall in northern Pennsylvania has been widely varied during the growing season and specifically in July," says Pennsylvania State Climatologist Paul Knight. "In fact, the wettest spot in the state during July which had nearly 10 inches of rain was in Wayne County (near Milford) and the driest spot, with less than 2 inches, was in Bradford County.

"Across Carbon County, the rainfall has been sporadic with southwest sections receiving only 50 percent of average precipitation during July, while northern parts of the county have had more than 150 percent in the last 30 days," he says. "This is not atypical during the summer when most rain comes from thunderstorms, which affect only small areas at a time."

As the amount of precipitation fell, temperatures rose.

"July was yet another warmer than average month adding to a string that began last September and was briefly interrupted in June," Knight says. "While there was a heat wave during the first week of the month, it was the consistently warm nights that contributed the most to a very warm July. Temperatures averaged 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the region."

Climatologist Jessica Rennels of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, said precipitation data for Lehighton, and for the state as a whole, "show that it has been dry, but it has been this dry and worse before."

Rennels says that "much of the below-normal precipitation was in winter and spring when we experienced very mild conditions due to La Nina and a positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation. There was such a deficit created that even the May rains haven't made up for it. The heat that's been experienced this summer has also increased evaporation, therefore decreasing soil moisture which is used to determine drought status."

According to NRCC, the Lehighton area had 21.47 inches of precipitation so far this year; 6.07 inches below average. The state as a whole had 17.79 inches, making it the 34th driest six months since 1895. The driest so far was in 1926, when only 14.14 inches fell, Rennels says.

La Nina is a condition of unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial pacific. The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is the relationship between two pressure systems, one in the polar region and one in the mid latitudes.

When in the positive phase, the polar pressure system is stronger and keeps cold stormy weather north of the Northeast United States, Rennels explains.

The hot, dry weather early in the growing season had farmers worried, says Penn State Extension Grain Crops Specialist Greg Roth.

"The below average precipitation stunted some of our corn crops and this has caused some to be shorter than normal. We have lost some yield potential," he says. "Some fields in the driest areas will not produce an ear and yields will be dismal. But with the mid and late July rain, a lot of our corn crop is recovering nicely and may actually produce a decent, but not a record yielding crop.

Roth says soybeans fared a bit better.

"Our soybeans were impacted some by the drought, but they mostly tolerated it well and began to recover nicely and I still have hopes for some high soybean yields around the state this year," Roth says. "The dry conditions were actually good for our wheat crop. Crop diseases were low and our wheat quality was very good. We had some very good yields as well. Our hay crops were definitely set back with the dry weather, but it did help farmers make some high quality hay and the early spring this year may mean that some farmers will get an extra cutting from some fields."

The weather picture began to change for the better, at least for farmers, about two weeks ago.

"Two weeks ago I was thinking we were on the edge of another drought-related disaster, but the rain came just in time to help many crops begin to recover," Roth says. "These dramatic changes in the weather make it difficult to manage crops and make good crop management decisions."

Mark O'Neill, media relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, says farmers were relieved to see the rain, but the dry weather earlier hindered the growth of field corn, used to feed livestock. Sweet corn, on the other hand, is a relatively small part of Pennsylvania corn production. Farmers can more easily irrigate sweet corn fields.

"Over the last couple of weeks, we have been getting a decent amount of rain. That's especially helpful to farmers," he says. "That doesn't mean there won't be losses. How much of a loss has yet to be determined, but things are looking a lot better now than they did a couple of weeks ago."

O'Neill said most crops need to get an inch of rain per week

"If you get an inch of rain per week for your corn crop, it means you are going to get pretty much near the maximum yield for that crop. For most of June, and the first half of July, we weren't getting that much rain," he says. "If we continue to get enough rain, it still could potentially be a decent year for a lot of growers."

The double whammy is that if there is not enough rain for farmers to get a decent crop of field corn for their livestock, they'll have to buy it. And because of the ongoing drought in the Midwest, corn prices are skyrocketing.

So, what's in store for fall and winter?

"The prospects for August and the autumn favor mild weather continuing with a chance that October may average below seasonal levels," Knight says.

"Odds favor an increase in rainfall during August and October, but a very dry September. With a developing El Niño (unusually warm ocean temperatures) in the equatorial Pacific, the winter weather favors much closer to seasonable temperatures than last winter (not as warm) with above average precipitation, so the snows should return to at least average amounts."

According to Rennels, "Seasonal outlooks provided by the Climate Prediction Center show above normal temperatures for December, January and February, but uncertain precipitation. It's possible that we will have an El Niño winter, that can mean less stormy conditions for Pennsylvania."

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