Dry end of summer a far cry from cool start

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Nico Savidge
Sunday, September 8, 2013

JANESVILLE—After a first half of summer marked by mild temperatures and lots of rain, the past few weeks of hot, dry weather might have those cool June days feeling like a distant memory.

Janesville saw more than double its average rainfall level in June, but since then has been well below average.

With just 1.8 inches of rain in July and 1.4 in August the area is seeing less precipitation than in those two months of the 2012 drought.

Looking ahead to next week, the only opportunity for rain in the National Weather Service's forecast is a 20 percent chance of showers on Tuesday.

The good news is that while rain has been scarcer temperatures haven't reached the heights they did in 2012, which UW-Madison assistant professor and turfgrass expert Doug Soldat said has spared lawns the destruction they experienced last summer.

“Even though the rainfall totals might be lower, the drought came last year coupled with temperatures in the 90s and 100s,” Soldat said. “This year temperatures have been moderate … and that makes the drought a lot less stressful.”

The forecast for next week calls for high temperatures ranging from the upper 70s to low 90s through Thursday—hot, to be sure, but not as bad as 2012.

Lawns might start to wilt without water, Soldat said, but the grass is going to survive. Even if the area doesn't see much rain for the next few weeks, Soldat said, it won't pose a great problem for the future of your lawn.

“I don't expect to see anywhere near the amount of turf lost that we saw last year,” he said. “The days are shorter, the nights are cooler and there's less water that's being lost from the plant leaves and the soil.”

Soldat recommended residents hold off on mowing if it looks like their lawns are drying out—mowing will just make it worse, he said. And if your lawn sees a lot of traffic from kids and pets, Soldat said, consider irrigating it to reduce the stress.

For crops, this weather has been beneficial in some ways.

A cool, wet spring got the growing season for corn and soybeans off to a late start, UW Extension crops and soils agent Jim Stute said. The heat has helped those plants mature as farmers get closer to harvest.

But as anyone who has driven past a yellowing cornfield in the past week can tell you, the lack of rain is evident.

“It is definitely dry and the crops are showing some moisture stress,” Stute said.

That could hurt yields, particularly of soybean crops that still need water to fill their pods at this point in the growing season, Stute said. A lack of rain could mean smaller pods, and a lower yield when the crops are harvested, he said.

But how big an impact it will have remains to be seen.

“To be determined,” Stute said.

As for what farmers around southern Wisconsin will want to see in the next few weeks, Stute said, “A couple inches of rain would be real nice.”

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