Ohio ag, emergency officials prepare for possible drought

Brad Schwartz (left), Ohio’s drought response coordinator with Emergency Management Agency, and Ohio Agriculture Director Dave Daniels, talked about what could happen if Ohio declares a drought.

COLUMBUS — The dry weather that has plagued Ohio the past three months, and the extreme heat of the past couple weeks are expected to continue through mid-July and potentially the rest of the summer, state weather officials said Tuesday during a press conference at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Julie Dian-Reed, hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said Ohio is on the ridge of a “very high pressure” area, and expects 90 degree weather through the end of the week, and near 100 degrees by the weekend.

She said there will be greater opportunity for rain the second part of July and through September, but she’s still not confident conditions will improve. If it does rain, she said it’s most likely to be in northern Ohio — near the Great Lakes — that receives the most.

“We’re expecting a lot of hit and miss,” she said. “We really are expecting this (dryness) to persist.”

Several parts of the state received an inch or more of rain Monday, July 2. But it was quickly taken in by plants and through runoff or evaporation.

“Having these very high temperatures, even if you get a little bit of rain, the (amount) of evapotranspiration is really kicking in,” she said.

Emergency management

The meeting was attended by Ohio Director of Agriculture David Daniels and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Nally. Both directors, along with staff at Ohio Department of Natural Resources, are weighing options for updating Ohio’s emergency plan for dealing with droughts — the Drought Incident Annex — should Ohio Gov. John Kasich and his staff declare a drought or state of emergency in coming weeks.

“We certainly aren’t in a drought yet but I think that most of the reports that have come out have shown that we have got, certainly from our benchmarks in past years, we’re significantly short on rainfall and water in the ground,” Daniels said.

Ohio’s drought response coordinator for the Emergency Management Agency, Brad Schwartz, said he would put the state at about a phase III drought — the third most severe of four possible drought phases.

A phase III drought could officially be declared by Friday, he predicted, and basically means the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which measures temperature and rainfall to determine dryness, is between moderate and severe drought. A phase III generally includes a declining and persistent decrease in the volume of surface and groundwater supplies.

“I don’t remember since I’ve been doing this, the drought being as pervasive and as severe across the state like it is at this point,” he said. “The soil moisture numbers are lower than I think I’ve ever seen.”

Evaporation, runoff

In addition to rapid evaporation, precipitation that falls during a drought also has the potential for increased levels of runoff — in places where the ground has been hardened and baked due to excessive heat.

“The rain we’ve had lately has been hitting onto hard ground and (we’ve had) a lot of runoff from that,” Schwartz said.

He said a phase four drought would be “an extreme drought condition.” If that happens, water supplies become closely regulated, reservoirs and stream levels drop and there can be rationing of water use. He’s already hearing reports of reservoirs with capacities at levels usually not seen until August.

“Right now we’re in a short-term agricultural drought,” he said, adding there’s a good possibility it will become “a long-term drought.”

Nally said he’s already taken action at the EPA, by enacting a no burn ban, except for fireworks. He said the recent storm events have caused a lot of debris to fall on properties across the state and people are eager to burn the debris, but he does not believe it is safe yet.

“There’s going to be a lot of mulch, because we’re not going to allow them to burn it,” he said.

If Ohio reaches a phase four drought, he expects the decisions will be even tougher, like rationing the amount of water that can be used for certain purposes.

The meeting included representation from Ohio’s commodity groups and various farm organizations. The information will be used at a planned meeting on Friday with Ohio’s Emergency Management Agency, where state officials plan to discuss all the types of impact a drought could have on the state.

Conditions can change

On the upside, officials continuously alluded to the possibility that rain, even when it’s not heavily predicted, could still show up by surprise and replenish much of the state. The National Weather Service shows a 40 percent chance of rain through much of the remaining week.

“Obviously we hope that this is a situation that doesn’t continue,” Daniels said. “I hope we all go out and get a nice gentle rain … (but) we do want to make sure that we are prepared in the event that a drought does occur.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

3 Comments

  1. Dean says:

    What will this do to the water withdrawals for drilling?

  2. Chris Kick says:

    I’m not sure, but I would imagine they won’t be affected much yet, since nothing has officially been declared. If things worsen to the point a declaration is made, it’s possible from what I heard, that it could also include certain rationing of water usage, etc.

  3. Dean says:

    They need to halt drilling NOW! People and animals need the water.

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