Parts of Michigan officially in drought

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Parts of Michigan have descended into moderate drought conditions for the first time this summer, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The abnormally dry and drought conditions have left some crops with stunted growth and moisture stress, while others are projected to have a bumper crop, according to Brad Rippey, meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s not all bad news, doom and gloom with the dry weather,” he said.

According to Rippey, Michigan leads the Midwest in its percentage of very poor-to-poor corn and soy crop conditions at 12 percent for both crops. But Rippey also said the dry conditions have benefited winter wheat and tree fruits such as sweet and tart cherries.

Both types of cherries are expected to produce crops “way up from last year,” Rippey said.

Winter wheat could also have a record year, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Beginning this week, the drought mitigation center’s maps show that more than 16 percent of the state is experiencing a mild drought, including large parts of Wayne, Jackson, Shiawassee, Saginaw, Bay, Huron, Midland and Mason counties.

In addition, it shows roughly 52 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, up from nearly 32 percent last week.

Last month was Metro Detroit’s 10th driest June, according to records stretching back to 1874, National Weather Service meteorologist Deb Elliott said.

June 2016 also was Flint’s second-thirstiest, with less than an inch — 0.67 — falling in 30 days, she added.

According to the map, parts of southwestern Michigan and much of the Upper Peninsula are experiencing normal amounts of rain.

Even before the National Drought Mitigation Center pronounced portions of the state to be in drought, Jeffrey Andresen, state climatologist and co-director of Enviro-weather at Michigan State University, said precipitation in some parts of the state has been 25 percent of normal or less.

Michigan’s extended period of dryness can’t be pegged to one factor, Andresen said, but is instead the result of what he called “a collective set of bad luck.” He said U-shaped wind patterns in the atmosphere along with the jet stream are two main factors in the lack of rain.

Accuweather senior meteorologist Paul Walker predicts Metro Detroit will continue to experience dry conditions through September, receiving 50 to 75 percent of the normal amount of rain.

Walker also predicts that temperatures the rest of July will toggle back and forth between average and above-average. He forecasts temperatures to be 2 to 3 degrees above normal through September.

According to soil moisture data from the USDA, 66 percent of the topsoil in Michigan is short to very short on soil moisture this week — a 6 percent jump from last week.

While the dry weather has been positive for some crops, it also spells trouble for the state’s already dry corn and soy crops as they head into their reproduction phase of growth.

Rippey said that while he traveled through the state last week, he noticed the leaves on corn stalks curling, a sign of moisture stress, as well as stunted growth in many soybean plants.

“Rain is needed,” Rippey said. “Both crops are headed for reproduction in the next few weeks and that’s when they need to get rain; otherwise, we’ll see a drop in crop production.”

According to Kate Krepps, associate field crops specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau, the state’s sugar beets and dry beans also are in serious need of water.

Some farmers can battle the drought conditions with irrigation, but not all.

Krepps said that while research universities such as MSU and private organizations continue to provide farmers with more tools to deal with weather stresses, farming will always have risk involved. And while much of the state is suffering from a lack of precipitation this year, it was suffering from too much rain last year.

“Farmers are often called the ultimate risk takers for a number of reasons,” she said. “One reason is because we depend on the weather.”

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Twitter: @evancarter_94