Saturday, 22 September 2012

AGRICULTURE: Midwest drought: A changed world emerges

At first glance, it looks like a typical fall across the Midwest.

It's not.

Beneath green pastures and lawns brought to life by August rains, the earth is still desiccated. On closer inspection, the brown corn stalks are half as tall as they should be and the husks contain stunted ears — or nothing at all.

The drought of 2012 isn't just a rural tragedy. Barges plying the Ohio and Mississippi rivers carry less cargo to avoid running aground in low water.

Homeowners far from farmland are paying for expensive repairs to basements and foundations separated from the shrinking soil around them. Businesses that depend on water -- a canoe rental company, a campground that counts on its well-stocked fishing pond to attract visitors -- feel the economic pain, too.

"The drought is not over by any means," says Josh Sittler, battalion chief for the Honey Creek Township Fire Department in western Indiana. Fall brings new worries: brush fires and fires caused by dry plant dust jamming the engines of farmers' combines.

The northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest remain "drought- stricken," meteorologist David Simeral of the Western Regional Climate Center notes. All of nine states -- Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri -- can't shake the drought.

The scorching of the central USA is one of the nation's worst in decades: Almost 65% of the nation is enduring drought conditions, Thursday's Drought Monitor reported. That's the highest percentage since the government website began recording conditions in 2000. Purdue economist Chris Hurt pegged the cost at $77 billion, which would make it the third-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and another devastating drought in 1988.

Americans in the stricken states and well beyond them are feeling the pain, as the prices of food, gas, retail goods and utilities have all ticked up.

The extreme drought has been exacerbated by near-record heat: The summer of 2012 was the third-hottest in U.S. weather history, and July was the hottest month the nation has ever recorded.
Original Article Here

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