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Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Kevin Dlabay checks the water level of the St. Marys River on Friday afternoon. Dlabay hopes to get his kayak out this weekend but wanted to evaluate the water level first.

Feeling the heat, in drought

Brief downpour but a teaser for area’s lawns, farms, rivers

Sprinklers are the lifeblood of the soccer fields at Foster Park West off Bluffton Road.
The bone-dry days have taken a toll on an Albion cornfield.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Lawn & Turf Landscaping Inc. employee Noe Gonzalez mows the lawn Friday at Indiana Tech.

For a lucky few, it might have helped.

For most, it was just a tease.

The brief but heavy rain shower that fell Thursday on Fort Wayne and parts of Ohio may have provided a break from the heat and some encouragement, but in the long run it did nothing to help a region that’s been thrust into a severe drought.

And there’s little relief in sight.

According to Mike Sabones, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service office in Syracuse, the dry conditions could last the rest of the month and into July.

“We’re digging quit a hole for us,” he said.

So expect a continuation of burn bans. Expect a season where crops are short. Expect shallow water at the beaches and rivers. Expect officials to ask you not to water your lawns much. If you’re in a small town, Fourth of July fireworks may be in jeopardy.

From farming to leisure to landscaping and even health issues, there are many who are feeling the heat.

Farming

It’s not time to hit the panic button.

At least, not yet.

That’s the message agriculture experts at Purdue University were giving farmers across the state this past week.

Only 37 percent of this year’s Indiana corn crop was rated good to excellent as of June 17, according to the university. But that is much higher than at that date in 1988, when a similar drought hit the state and only 5 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent.

“Clearly, there are some truly severely stressed regions of the state,” said Bob Nielsen, a corn specialist at Purdue. “But if you look at the state as a whole, the corn has hung in there amazingly well.”

Farmers who opted for crop insurance this year are probably breathing a sigh of relief, though.

A growing number of local farmers have been insuring their crops through a federal program in recent years, according to Les Zorger, a crop insurance agent with Farm Bureau Insurance.

It’s become a must in a business that requires the borrowing of a lot of money, said Zorger, who noted that farmers needed to make the decision on whether to buy insurance by March 15.

Landscaping

The drought is playing havoc with landscapers.

With no rain – and some water companies asking residents to cut back on water usage – grass isn’t growing.

And that means lawn crews aren’t being used.

“We’re doing 30 percent to 40 percent less mowing than we usually do,” said Chris Leeper, the owner and president of Leeper’s Lawn Service Inc. “Our mowing side of the business is one of our biggest sales producers.”

Usually 13 mowing crews work for Leeper, but he’s had to cut it to nine as the drought worsened.

For Chris Spurr, the owner of Tidal Turf, the drought has especially hurt.

While he continues to do as much landscaping as he can – though that business usually slows in July before picking up again in September – his one sole lawn crew is not doing much.

“I’ve seen some weird weather patterns for the last three years, but this year pretty much takes the cake,” he said.

Still, many are holding out hope.

Leeper has been in the business for 29 years. He remembers dry times before, such as the drought of 1988, which he said was extremely bad.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said. “We’ve seen them before. We’ll get through this.”

Fireworks

Officials in Albion have postponed that town’s Fourth of July show – unless more rain comes – to Labor Day weekend.

Officials in the Noble County town said the decision to postpone was made to support the county’s ban on open burning after talking with organizers of the fireworks show.

Every county surrounding Allen currently has a burn ban except for Whitley.

In Allen County, campfires, bonfires and the the burning of trash are all prohibited by the ban, which was extended another week by the county commissioners.

And now you cannot ignite fireworks without a permit.

Companies that have procured permits to put on professional fireworks displays are currently exempt from the county’s burn ban.

That includes plans for a Fourth of July fireworks show in Fort Wayne, TinCaps games this weekend and a display scheduled for tonight’s RiverFest.

Before the week is out, fire department spokeswoman Stacey Fleming said, the department and Fort Wayne officials will probably address the city’s personal fireworks regulations, which allow residents to use fireworks from June 29 through July 3.

Currently, those regulations are still in effect.

Leisure

With a little vacation time on his hands and really nowhere to go, Kevin Dlabay hopped on his motorcycle and headed to the St. Marys River for some possible kayaking Friday.

When he looked down into the water, he was treated to the sights of long-ago discarded garbage, old bridge supports and various plants and tree limbs sticking out of the water.

“It’s the sort of things lost in time you never see,” he said. “You see a lot of things when the water gets that low.”

While he finds wading through such low water interesting, the 52-year-old wondered what people with bigger boats might do.

“A speedboat could be dangerous,” he said.

The dry weather is also affecting some area beaches.

Low water levels have led the Department of Natural Resources to close four beaches across the state, including the one at Salamonie Lake, about 30 miles southwest of Fort Wayne.

Allergies

Dr. Naresh Patel says he’s seeing the results of a trifecta of events:

The drier air from the drought combined with warm spring months and a mild winter has led to more people walking through his doors seeking relief this year at Fort Wayne Allergy and Asthma Consultants.

In a nutshell, those suffering from allergies are having a rough go as the pollen hangs around in the dry air.

“We see lots of families, and even the members I usually don’t see are coming in this season,” Patel said. “Even the milder patients are coming out of the woodwork.”

Patel expects a little lull for allergy sufferers come July, but soon it will be August.

“Then, the ragweed pollination starts,” Patel said.

Mosquitoes

If there is a silver lining to this drought – albeit slight – it might be mosquitoes. So far, health officials don’t expect an abundance of the mosquito population that is prone to carry the West Nile virus to infest the area during the drought.

With no standing water anywhere, there’s no means for mosquitoes to breed.

Coming from the culex family of mosquitoes, the insects like to breed in hot and dry weather, according to Dave Fiess, the director of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department’s Vector Control and Environmental Services.

In 2002, when dry weather hit the state, Allen County had a large increase in these mosquitoes.

But so far, crews searching for them have found no standing water anywhere.

“We’re finding a lot of tires out there, but they’re bone dry,” Fiess said. “There’s no rain to fill those containers and ditches up. We’re just not seeing that type of population increase we saw in 2002.”

Fiess said that homeowners should be wary of any container left outside that has standing water. Buckets should be dumped and the mosquitoes could even lay eggs in a discarded bottle cap, Fiess said.

But while the lack of mosquitoes is a good thing, it just shows Fiess how bad the weather is.

“In my mind, these conditions are worse than in 2002, which isn’t good,” he said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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