Region remains parched: Lack of rainfall not as bad as ‘88
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 16, 2012 10:51PM
Nick Janakievski of Crown Point waters the grass at home Thursday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Tips to prevent fireworks from starting fires
Due to extremely dry conditions this June, some local jurisdictions are restricting the use of fireworks. Contact your city or county board of commissioners, or your local fire department to inquire about what fireworks prohibitions or restrictions may be in effect for your area.
Discharge fireworks in a clear, open area and never point fireworks toward houses, trees, shrubs, fields, animals or people.
Monitor wind speed and direction when discharging fireworks to avoid having fireworks devices blown into trees, house roofs, fields, etc.
After discharging fireworks, retrieve all remnants to prevent smoldering firework materials from igniting a fire.
Submerge all used fireworks, including spent sparklers, in a bucket of water overnight before discarding.
Never discharge fireworks without having a fire extinguisher, water hose or other extinguishing agent readily available.
When attending professional fireworks displays, avoid parking on tall grass. Park on gravel, concrete or asphalt whenever possible.
For more fireworks safety tips or information about dry weather safety, visit GetPrepared.in.gov.
Follow Indiana Department of Homeland Security on twitter at www.twitter.com/IDHS or search for “Indiana Department of Homeland Security” on Facebook.
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:31AM
Brown lawns, parched crops and an increased risk of wildfires have local residents looking to the sky, hoping for rain.
Most parts of Lake and Porter counties are 3 to 4 inches below normal in terms of rainfall for the period between April 15 and June 15, according to Gino Izzy, senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service Chicago office, which oversees Northwest Indiana.
“Basically, what we are seeing is rainfall totals half to two-thirds of normal,” Izzy said.
Normally the region should be at about 8 inches of cumulative rainfall during that 60-day stretch. For most of Lake and Porter counties the rainfall totals are coming in at about 4 and 5 inches. Parts of Lake County near the Kankakee River have had a little more help from Mother Nature and are near 6 to 7 inches in rainfall, while some spots in northern Porter County have had even less than 4 inches.
The outlook for more rain is not very encouraging. If the rain comes this weekend it will not be a soaker and it will not blanket the region.
“We’ve got the one shot and then we are pretty much back to the scorcher,” Izzy said.
It is not that unusual to go through periods of dry weather and even droughts. Northwest Indiana is still better off than in 1988, the last significant drought to hit the area. But that can change if the weather patterns do not improve and bring some much-needed rainfall.
“This is typically one of the wettest periods of the year and we certainly are not living up to that,” he said.
Grass could die
For homeowners that means lawns are going dormant and could be at risk of dying if some rainfall does not come soon, said Nikky Witcowski, horticulture and natural resources extension educator for the Purdue Cooperative Extension Lake County office.
While there is normally nothing wrong with letting nature take its course and allowing the lawn to go dormant during dry spells instead of trying to water to a lush green, it is so dry in the region that if rain does not come this weekend, homeowners should considering irrigating their lawns with at least a half-inch of water to ensure the grass does not die completely.
Trees, too, may need a little extra help. Their deep roots usually can seek out some moisture, but the long-lasting dry spell could put them in stress.
Certain species of grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass, are more drought sensitive and would benefit with the occasional application of a little moisture. Turf-cut tall fescue is a little more drought resistant, but still could be endangered if rain does not come soon.
“You want to water about a half inch every two to three weeks, enough so the grass can survive but not grow,” Witcowski said.
She encourages homeowners to be smart about their watering during this dry season and use a little restraint. Water in the morning before the sun causes evaporation. Avoid watering in the evening when the leaves may stay wet for a long time and create a breeding ground for disease.
“The reaction is going to be to water, water, water,” Witcowski said. “Don’t water too excessively. I’m not going to say it will drain our water levels, but it could stress our water levels.”
The drought conditions are a problem for farmers as well, especially those without irrigation systems. Corn already can be seen cupping, a curling of the leaves indicative of drought conditions. The early spring means most farmers were able to plant early so the roots are well established, but continued drought conditions could force the corn and bean crops to tassel and flower early, reducing yields.
Southern Indiana farmers are being particularly hard hit by the conditions and local farmers are not quite to that point yet, but if something does not change, they could be.
“This weekend is kind of the breaking point to know,” Witcowski said, adding if the area gets a decent amount of rainfall, crops could be OK. “The concern is if we don’t.”
Fire threat is high
That concerns is echoed by local firefighters and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Charlie Scott, assistant fire chief for the Lowell Volunteer Fire Department, said conditions are right for brush fires and more dangerously, farm field fires.
Scott said wheat that is ready to harvest is browning. A tossed cigarette or ember from a fire could cause an entire wheat field to become a raging inferno. Once that happens, all firefighters can do is try and stop the blaze at natural fire breaks at the end of the fields like ditches and roadways.
“We ask everyone to refrain from throwing smoking materials out of their car. I wish they’d stop doing that. The conditions are right. (Brush fires) are going to start happening,” Scott said.
Firefighting officials are also concerned about fireworks this year, and so is the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, a division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Friday the agency issued a warning urging an extremely high level of care and caution when discharging fireworks this year.
“In a typical year, there are more fires on July 4 than on any other day of the year,” said Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson.
“With extremely dry conditions pervasive across the state this year, anyone enjoying consumer fireworks needs to do so with a heightened level of caution. As evidenced by the numerous reports of grass and brush fires we have received already, grass and other vegetation in many areas are readily combustible.”