INDIANAPOLIS — The suffocating heat and drought plaguing much of Indiana aren’t exactly apocalyptic, but they are wreaking havoc across the state.
The ground is so dry that most of Indiana is under a open burn in fear that a small spark could set the parched fields ablaze.
While temperatures have dropped somewhat this week, the damage may have already been done.
It’s not just hot and dry. It’s so hot and dry there are farmers in southwest Indiana that have already plowed under fields because their corn was dying, and more may follow suit. It’s so hot and dry that livestock feed prices are skyrocketing to record levels, triggering what will likely be higher meat prices for consumers.
It’s so hot and dry that wood-boring insects are lethally feasting on water-starved trees, even those that have been around for decades. It’s so hot and dry that using a water sprinkler on your lawn may be wasted effort since your grass may already be dead, not just dormant.
It’s so hot and dry that we should be hoping for a hurricane.
“It’s bad to say it, but that’s what we need,” said Austin Pearson, a research assistant at the Indiana State Climate Office at Purdue University. “We need a hurricane or tropical storm to come up through the Gulf of Mexico, through the eastern half of Texas and ride up through the Midwest.”
Bringing with it, of course, a big soaking rain that would last several days to compensate for months of little more than spit.
Summer just arrived last month, but it’s already record-making. Across the state, rain levels are down 5 to 10 inches where they usually are.
Chris Hurt, a Purdue agricultural economist, said, “We are sitting in the state with the worst crop conditions of any of the major (agricultural) states. We are at the center of the drought at this point.”
Ninety-nine percent of the state is experiencing “abnormally dry” or drought-like conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More than 87 percent of the state is officially in a drought. Nearly one-quarter of the state is experiencing “extreme drought.”
Hurt said that last number will get bigger, short of that torrential storm that Pearson would like to call forth.
“We’re likely to be in a drought for rest of the growing season,” Hurt said. “The only question now is ‘Does is get worse?’”
It’s already bad for Indiana farmers. The drought and a wave of unrelenting heat is putting big stress on crops and farmers. Crops that were planted early this spring are in a growth stage where they’re sucking up moisture from the soil faster than it can be replaced, even with a return to normal rainfall, Hurt said.
Indiana’s corn crop is particularly vulnerable. The extreme temperatures and lack of rain are interfering with pollination, which is critical. Hurt said farmers in southwest Indiana have seen complete pollination failure in many of their corn fields.
“That’s the end for them,” Hurt said. “Those fields are gone.”
The big fear is the 2012 drought will come close or surpass the record drought of 1988, which did fell world-ending to many farmers.
“It’s causing a lot of fear and anxiety,” Hurt said. “We’re waiting for the catastrophe to come.”
Last month was the third driest June on record for the state and the driest on record for the state’s capital city of Indianapolis. There was record-setting heat, with a string of 100-degree plus days in some southern Indiana counties.