Rains Still Fickle in Dry Areas

Hoosier Perspectives

How big a cloud will it take to get a real rain?

Published on: September 20, 2011

If you don't live in the epicenter of the Indiana drought, anywhere in central Indiana, especially in Morgan, Johnson and Shelby Counties, this may seem a little strange. But to one who lives there, not even the darkest of clouds and best of chances of rain have produced more than a quarter of an inch in quite some time.

My friend on the phone was all excited last Wednesday evening. He was sure it would rain all night. "It's the best chance in terms of looks for Trafalgar for quite some time," he said. Trafalgar, home of the Indiana FFA Center, is in Johnson County.

Well, guess what? It rained a light rain, sometimes not enough to need windshield wipers. When it was all over, My Rain Scout report, a service that reports rainfall based on radar and a patented formula, which has been accurate with one exception all year long, read less than 0.3 of an inch. And to top it off, today is bright sun, a few wispy clouds, a breeze and cool temperatures. The front moved through again, and again forgot to leave much rain behind.

Not that it would do much good at this point. There are a few fields of green soybeans left, but most are turning yellow and a few have even been harvested, although mainly in very droughty areas or areas in northern Indiana where they were planted early. And if the beans are late or if you have double-crop beans, entomologists say that if the soybean aphids don't get them, bean leaf beetles well. This is one of those years when it seems like the best thing to do would be press rewind and hope for a better set of weather conditions.

Actually, that's what a lot of farmers will be doing. Rewind will be their crop insurance, which even if it doesn't bring them the income they hoped for, should cover expenses and leave enough to make it until next year. Without it, the most severely hit of the drought areas would be full of farmers writing off a bad year and digging into savings account, or holding auctions if they were young and unprotected by insurance. The stakes are just too high today when you invest up to $500 or more per acre, counting rent, and then suffer a crop failure.

Many people, including me, an amateur weather sleuth, believe in the theory of priming the pump. After a long dry spell, it sometimes takes a while to get the storms to remember what they're supposed to do- bring moisture and drop it out as rain. Whether true or not, it leaves you with a distinct feeling that it may take for ever to get that big rain.

Don't worry, if Greg Soulje, writing for Indiana Prairie Farmer, is right, this pattern won't hold forever. Few things ever do. The jet stream will shift, and when it does, it will run. In fact, he sees above normal rain for Indiana from mid-October on.

So maybe we shouldn't be too worried if those clouds that look full of run don't pour out that much moisture. Yield for most crops is dyed in the wool anyway. Now the job is getting what's there out of the field and preparing for next year. Heavy rains coming too early before harvest is complete would just add insult to injury. Few farmers in Indiana are going to come out of this season totally unscathed. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky few.