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SWEAT THREAT FRET: Mizzou scientists sound alarm about summer heat

Scientists from several disciplines say damaging heat is here to stay
 
COLUMBIA, 7/13/12 (Beat Byte) -- From crop specialists to soil scientists to a nationally-known climatologist, Mizzou scientists are sounding the alarm about Missouri's extreme summer heat.   Several scientists have told news outlets this hot, dry season could prove historic. 

January-to-June temperatures are the warmest average on record in 118 years.  Missouri had its third warmest winter, warmest March and warmest spring ever.

This year's drought is beginning to look a lot like 1988 -- the most destructive in the state's history, Mizzou soil scientist Bill Wiebold told reporters last month.   As much as half the state's corn crop could be a total loss, and no end is in sight, he said. 

Mizzou soil scientist Randy Miles agrees.  The soil is dry five feet down -- the depth most crops get moisture.  The drought started last August, and with a warm winter, low humidity, lots of wind and little snow, water has evaporated.   In the summer, the soil can lose up to one-quarter inch of water per day.
 
Soil isn't the only thing drying out.  Drought-stricken grasses and hay accumulate nitrates that can kill grazing livestock.   "We're getting reports of cattle dying," said Rob Kallenbach, MU Extension forage specialist.   "As hot weather without rain continues, we expect to hear of more death losses.  It happens at the start of every drought."
 
Lack of moisture stops the conversion of nitrates to protein, but doesn't stop roots from bringing nitrogen into the plant, where it accumulates as nitrate and can become toxic. 

Quantifying what he called an "arid spring," Mizzou climatologist Patrick Guinan said spring only brought 4 inches of rain to Missouri when normal rainfall is 10 inches.   He agrees with his peers that a 1988-style drought is in the offing, adding that 1988 was one of the three worst droughts of the last century, which included the mid-1950s and the dust bowl of the 1930s.

"We're not there yet," Guinan told reporters. "But you do have to go back to 1988 to find a drier May and June than we've had this year. Hot, dry weather in the spring isn't a good start."

Trying to make sense of it all, Mizzou atmospheric science professor and department chair Tony Lupo says a weather pattern called La Nina, which brings warm dry air to the Midwest, is dominant and will be until late September or early October. 
 
"We're on the downside of La Nina and where it goes from here, is a little bit up in the air," he told reporters. "The best guess is that it will finally run its course here and that we'll head toward El Nino this winter."    El Nino, Lupo explained, could bring colder and snowier conditions to the Midwest.
 
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