It started out as a promising year. The Farmer's Almanac, the go to weather bible for generations, predicted a summer that was a bit milder and wetter than previous years. Farmers across the country planted extra crops in anticipation of a bumper year. The winter season was warmer than normal, breaking records in some parts of the country, but hopes were high that we would break the cycle of heat and drought we've experienced the past couple of years. But, as she always does, Mother Nature had different plans and the heat wave/drought of 2012 began.
The lack of significant snow in North America caused a serious reduction in moisture. Snow melting and evaporating in the Northern Hemisphere is a major source of spring and early summer rains. Fewer spring rains meant a reduction in ground moisture and perpetuated a drought cycle, which began two years ago. As the summer wore on, farmers watched their crops steadily wither and die due to expanding drought conditions. In conjunction with extreme drought, a massive heat wave broke thousands of records across the nation. At the center of this heat wave was what is commonly referred to as a “heat dome” that stayed entrenched over the center of the country, with the epicenter being Missouri, Arkansas, and western Illinois. This perfect storm of drought and heat has devastated the region and governors have had to declare states of emergency, including Arkansas, where Governor Mike Bebee declared a state of emergency on August 3 to assist Arkansas ranchers especially hard hit this year.
As crops deteriorated, prices for grain, feed, and even gas began to rise. Hay was hit hard with reports of bales spontaneously combusting here in Arkansas and other states in July. By August, the price of a bale of hay rose to an average of $70.
Here in Cleburne County, two months of exceptional heat took its toll on residents and the environment. Daily alerts from the National Weather Service warning of excessive heat and extreme fire danger were issued. As the temperatures soared and rain became more and more scarce, the county issued a burn ban. With heavy monitoring, Heber Springs held its annual fireworks display, but private use of fireworks was forbidden under penalty of criminal charges. Area water systems announced various voluntary and mandatory water conservation measures. Prayer meetings were held asking for relief. By August, Cleburne County was part of a massive exceptional drought zone that encompassed 44% of the state.
Area residents visibly noticed the effects of the drought on trees. As the drought stretched into July, many trees began to shed their leaves as part of their natural defense against extreme conditions. The ground was littered with leaves creating scenes reminiscent of fall throughout the county. Although most of the trees were in a dormancy stage, rather than dead, they were a harsh and visible reminder of the extreme weather plaguing the area. According to Gerald Klingaman of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, “The long term aftermath of the drought on old trees will be felt over the next three to five years.” Stress resulting from this year's weather has made these trees more susceptible to disease and infestation. The total tree loss won't be known until down the road.
Page 2 of 2 - Although temperatures have moderated in the early period of August and scattered rain showers have given the county much needed water, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center continues to list Cleburne County as part of a broad section of the country where drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify as late as November 30. The Farmer's Almanac is predicting periods of cooler temperatures and scattered storms, at least through the end of September. In the end, Mother Nature will have the final say and Cleburne County, and much of the rest of the region, will have to hope that this time she decides to smile in our favor.