Related topics

Drought Impact Spreads in First Days of Summer

June 26, 1988

Undated (AP) _ The first days of summer brought record heat, little rain and wilting hopes of averting the Dust Bowl of 1988.

″Watching a drought is almost like watching paint dry,″ said Ron Affeldt, director of the Office of Emergency Management in hard-hit North Dakota, ″but out there today, it is happening fast, extremely fast.″

The impact was measured not only in failing crops, but in frantic commodity trading, surging electric power demand, restrictions on lawn-watering and car- washing in dozens of towns and shipping backed up on the no longer mighty Mississippi. The river was 20 feet below its year-ago levels at Memphis, Tenn., where more than a thousand barges were stranded.

In some respects, it was already a lost summer. Rain could still save some crops, said Kansas Agriculture Secretary Sam Brownback, but ″the pastures are so short they’re never going to get ahead of the herd - they’re past their growing.″

However, Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng said Thursday that hard, steady rains in the next two weeks could still prevent major damage and that it was still too early to commit federal money to drought relief.

In the past week, the drought was measured in many ways:

- The U.S. Department of Agriculture listed 1,231 counties, 40 percent of the total, as having a drought emergency.

- The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the number of streams with normal flow in May was the lowest in six years, with only 54 percent of 191 river measuring stations at normal or better. Streamflows in California were 42 percent below average in May. The Saline River in Arkansas had only 10 percent of normal flow, while the Tombigbee River at Coatopa, Ala., was 15 percent of normal.

- Sixty-one cities had record high temperatures on Tuesday, 64 set records on Wednesday and 35 on Thursday.

- Cows were selling for 39 cents a pound, down from 51-52 cents two weeks ago, as farmers rushed to get rid of herds they could no longer feed.

- Tom George, administrator of Soil Conservation Service erosion surveys, said wind erosion damaged 13.1 million parched acres in the Great Plains this year, about three times the annual average.

- Corn prices have doubled in a month, from $1.70-$1.85 in May to $3.48 at Thursday’s close. Soybeans nudged close to $11 a bushel for July delivery.

″With the corn crop, each week that goes by without rain means another 10 percent is lost,″ said Joel Karlin, an analyst with Research Department Inc. in Chicago. Some estimate anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. corn crop already has been ruined.

While that was bad news for consumers, farmers with adequate rain and those with grain in storage stood to reap windfall profits.

″I’m afraid we’re going to lose some farmers, and we’ve lost enough already in my state,″ said Gov. George Sinner of North Dakota, one of 10 Midwest governors who met with Lyng in Chicago last week.

The bottom line for consumers, the Agriculture Department said, is a 1 percent increase in food prices if the drought persists.

Grain-based foods, such as bread and pasta, were likely to increase the most, economists said, but drought was also likely to raise the price of beer. Barley, a prime ingredient in beer, had increased from $2.55-$2.60 a bushel to $4.30-$4.50 since June 6, said Marge Jones, owner and publisher of the Brewers Bulletin in Woodstock, Ill.

Low river levels also posed a pollution threat, because there wasn’t enough water in many places to properly dilute sewage and other wastes.

Flows were barely adequate to handle discharges from pulp and paper mills along the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, said Bruce Baker, director of water resource management for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources.

″Once a flow drops below risk level, waste from the plants exceeds a river’s capacity to assimilate it,″ Baker said. ″At that point, we must just sit back and watch the fish die.″

But it’s not so easy to raise levels even where stored water is available. The Army Corps of Engineers found that discharging water from the Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border might wash awy the nests of piping plovers and interior least terns, both federally protected species.

″I guess we’ve got conflicting interests here,″ said Chet Worm, chief of reservoir operations for the corps in Omaha, told The Kansas City Star. ″Sometimes you forget the river has all kinds of users, not just people.″

The dry heat raised concern about the dreaded ″greenhouse effect,″ the theory that all the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by our cars, furnaces and factories, was warming the climate.

″Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming,″ James Hansen, a climatalogist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, told a congressional committee.

However, Hansen added, there was no way to prove the ″greenhouse″ caused this heat wave.

Hot it was, but it wasn’t miserable for everyone.

″The weather’s been really nice for us. A little rain and then a dry period makes for great growing conditions,″ said Jim Gifford, president and wine maker for Glenora Wine Cellars near Dundee, N.Y.

Hot weather was great for business at Press Box East, an air-conditioned restaurant in Charlotte, N.C. ″People are staying longer,″ said general manager Bobbie Barley. ″Instead of having just a cold beer, they’re staying for dinner.″

End Adv Sunday June 26

Update hourly