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The drought from here: hunkered down, praying for El Nino

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In the lead-up to August, triple-digit temperatures have been all too common and it’s too hot for all sorts of summer activities usually taken for granted. It’s too hot for the sound of kids’ laughter as they chase fireflies and each other; too hot for neighborhood dogs to fight; too hot for much of anything except to hunker down in a wash of sweet air and take it. Heck, our semi-wild black cat even paws at the front window every night wanting in, overjoyed to be kenneled in the A/C.

We all have stories about the continuing heat and drought.

In other areas of the Mid-South, farmers tell me the drought hasn’t been nearly as devastating. Their irrigated crops look great and they expect a bountiful harvest. That’s great news.

Around here, though, it’s hellish and has been the whole cropping season. Area herds are being liquidated, quality hay is hard to come by and watering holes have been nothing but cracked mud for weeks.

Our small, north-central Arkansas resort town is smack-dab in the middle of the worst of the latest drought. Check out the U.S. Drought Monitor and we’re in that darkest of designations – no real rain for months, no let-up from brutal, crushing heat.

In the lead-up to August, triple-digit temperatures have been all too common and it’s too hot for all sorts of summer activities usually taken for granted. It’s too hot for the sound of kids’ laughter as they chase fireflies and each other; too hot for neighborhood dogs to fight; too hot for much of anything except to hunker down in a wash of sweet air and take it. Heck, our semi-wild black cat even paws at the front window every night wanting in, overjoyed to be kenneled in the A/C.

The first inkling that something was seriously awry occurred early this spring when rumors swirled that too much water had been released from the area lake. Expecting spring rains to swell the lake, as usual, officials had sent lake water down a trout river. When the rains never arrived, we were told if buckets-worth didn’t fall soon it would lead to lawn-watering bans, burn bans.

And so it has.

Trees are dying. The ground here is already covered with orange leaves, a shower of them fall with every slight breeze. The thirsty hilltop trees that surround us have looked on the verge of turning to autumn foliage since late June, a symptom of no rain. If it comes at all this year, I suspect the usual beautiful, bright blaze of color -- a promise of relief and dipping temperatures to come -- won’t be nearly as eye-popping.

For several months now we’ve only been allowed to water lawns/gardens/flowers once a week. Some, unwilling to let their now-patchy zoysia die altogether, have taken to surreptitiously watering late at night.

The drought has surely hit seasonal lawn-care workers in their wallets.

Another of the ripple effects of this drought had my sons – 11 and 7 – nearly in tears around July 4. The burn ban here meant no crackers, bottle rockets, smoke bombs and whatever else my gunpowder-loving boys usually stuff into a sack at the nearest stand.  

Driving around central Arkansas, it appeared that the majority of firework stands still opened. But my boys noticed they seemed to be lacking the normal crowds. I doubt the stands did more than a fraction of their usual business.

Of course, the heat has also become a matter of life and death. Last week, my father, who lives in southwest Missouri, told me his friend – a fit gentleman who was helping earn his church money by parking vehicles in a lot across from local fairgrounds – had collapsed. He’d suffered a major heart attack brought on by extreme heat. They’re praying he makes it out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, on the prognosticating front, meteorologists say an El Nino could arrive this fall ushering in more normal weather patterns for a few years. C’mon, El Nino!

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