Saturday, June 23, 2012

TOP STORY >> More dry, hot weather

Leader staff writer

In one week, Arkansas went from 1 percent of the state being in severe drought to almost 84 percent.

The state’s drought monitor map shows more than 99 percent of the state having some sort of drought classification as burn bans increase, wildfire danger expands and cattle producers worry about hay.

The hot and dry conditions also increase the number of orange Ozone Action Days calling for those with breathing difficulties to stay indoors. Today is one of those Ozone Action Days.

So far in June the local area has received just .77 inches of rain, down about two inches from the average. Couple June’s dryness with the half-inch of rain the area received in May and the onslaught of near 100-degree temperatures, and that becomes the recipe for drought conditions.

All of the state, except for a sliver of Columbia County near the Louisiana border, is either under moderate or sever drought conditions.

John Robinson of the National Weather Service at North Little Rock said groundwater is evaporating at the rate of about a third of an inch a day. “Pop-up showers won’t help us now. We need a tropical storm,” he said.

None of those are on the horizon. But triple-digit temperatures on Sunday and Monday and no rain into July is expected.

The prolonged heat and dry conditions have caused nearly two-thirds of the state’s counties, including Pulaski and Lonoke, to declare burn bans, which means no fireworks.

The Jacksonville Fire Department said that city ordinances require permits before anyone can shoot off fireworks. But because of the county burn ban, no permits will be issued until the ban is lifted.

“Any permits already issued are considered null and void. The burn ban expressly forbids the discharge of any fireworks within the county without special permissions granted to licensed professionals.

“Until the ban is lifted, no fireworks may be discharged within the city of Jacksonville without written permission from the Pulaski County courts,” said Capt. Mike Williams, the city’s fire marshal.

The possibility of wildfires is one of the big reasons for burn bans. Fireworks caused one multi-acre fire in central Arkansas as did a farmer’s tractor blade striking a rock; the conditions are that severe.

To help seniors and others in the area American Legion Post 71 and the Cabot Community Coalition will open a cooling center on days, except Sundays, when the temperature reaches 100 degrees or the heat index is 105 degrees.

The cooling center will be at 208 N. First St. at the Cabot Mini-Mall and is projected to be open Monday and possibly all of next week.

It will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Transportation to the center will also available and can be arranged by calling Joe McLoughlin of the American Legion at 501-203-5715.

The drought is also cutting into the livelihood of area farmers as pastures continue to shrivel.

Monday’s crop report from the national Agricultural Statistics Service said that last “week’s rainfall was enough to prevent a decline in pasture and range conditions but not enough to significantly improve conditions.”

Only 1 percent of pastures were rated excellent; 11 percent were good, 32 percent fair, 35 percent poor and 21 percent very poor.