Drought expanded significantly in the Southeast and Texas in September as dry conditions hurt crop production and increased the fire danger. While fall is typically fire season for some parts of the country, drought dramatically elevated the fire risk, prompting a large number of drought-driven burn bans in Texas, parts of the southern Midwest and across the Southeast. Pasture and crop production was hindered in much of the drought-affected parts of the U.S., with livestock producers starting to feed hay early and dipping into winter supplies months ahead of schedule, which may lead to shortages and higher costs for producers during the winter. In addition, many parts of the country experienced their near hottest or driest Septembers on record, promoting the development of flash drought or drought intensification in many areas.
Texas had the most impacts (39) in September as various parts of the state endured drought, affecting agriculture and livestock and ramping up fire risk. Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky followed with 22, 20 and 15 impacts, respectively, as drought harmed crops and increased the fire danger and activity.
At the start of September, much of Texas was abnormally dry or in drought, which affected pastures across much of the state. Some producers were already feeding livestock hay and supplemental feed, which only increased as the month progressed. Calves were weaned early and sold. Cattle prices dropped as the state beef herd hit an eight-year high of 4.65 million head, and drought caused producers to cull cattle earlier and deeper than usual, among other factors.
Texas Crop and Weather Report – Sept. 4, 2019, by Adam Russell, North Texas e-News (Fannin, Texas), Sept. 5, 2019
Texas Crop and Weather Report – Sept. 24, 2019, by Adam Russell, The Bryan College-Station Eagle (Texas), Sept. 25, 2019
Drought also heightened the fire risk across Texas, leading many counties to enact burn bans. As of Sept. 10, about two-thirds (171 out of 254) of the counties in the state had bans on burning.
171 counties in Texas under a burn ban, by Andrew Wilson, KENS 5 TV (San Antonio, Texas), Sept. 10, 2019
Dry pastures in Alabama, elevated fire danger, respiratory issues
The hot, dry summer parched agricultural endeavors in Alabama. Pastures were dry, forcing many cattle producers to feed hay early, although that does not typically begin until late October or November. In the southeast, cattle producers were paying extra for hay and supplemental feed, while farmers who irrigated heavily out of necessity were being hit with exorbitant electricity bills. Late-planted crops were most affected by the dry weather and may have extreme yield reductions.
Parched pastures affecting Alabama cattle farmers, by Make Cason, AL.com (Birmingham, Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019
Farmers impacted as heat wave continues, by Randi Hildreth, WSFA-TV NBC 12 Montgomery (Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019
Peanut growers in southeast Alabama were having a particularly difficult time harvesting their crop. Farmers were expected to harvest less than 3,200 pounds per acre, which is below average. Because of drought, peanuts were smaller, and producers estimate 10 to 20 percent of the peanut crop was lost to drought. The hard, dry ground was also hard on machinery, causing blade breakages and dulling the blades quickly. Dull blades result in a lower harvest.
Peanut crops suffering from drought conditions, by Eric DoBroka, WTVY.com (Dothan, Alabama), Sept. 24, 2019
As drought and heat increased the fire danger in Alabama, the state Forestry Commission issued a Fire Danger Advisory for all counties on Sept. 16. The AFC upgraded the fire danger advisory to a statewide fire alert on Sept. 25. The fire alert meant that permits for outdoor burning were restricted and issued on an individual basis at the discretion of the state forester. The state’s drought status and elevated fire danger prompted the move to a fire alert.
Fire Danger Advisory issued for every Alabama county, by John Shryock and Samantha Day, WSFA-TV NBC 12 Montgomery (Alabama), Sept. 16, 2019
Alabama Forestry Commission upgrades advisory to statewide fire alert, Dothan Eagle & Dothan Progress (Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019
The hot, dry conditions in Alabama affected the health of people with chronic respiratory issues because there has been little rain in weeks to remove dust, pollen and mold particles from the air. As a result, more patients were being seen for respiratory issues at the Huntsville Hospital’s Lung Center in northeast Alabama. Similar concerns were occurring in Middle Tennessee.
Respiratory issues being amplified by the drought, WAFF-TV NBC 48 Huntsville (Alabama), Sept. 30, 2019
Drought having an impact on allergies, by Mary Mays, WKRN News 2 (Nashville, Tennessee), Oct. 1, 2019
Tennessee pastures, livestock hurt by drought
The drought in Tennessee affected pastures, crops and livestock in September. In northern Tennessee, pastures were dry, leaving undesirable weeds growing and forcing livestock producers to begin feeding hay about a month and a half early. Livestock producers in Putnam and Jackson counties lost livestock to poisoning from eating the perilla mint weed, which can be toxic in large quantities. The ground was too hard to plant forage crops. Ponds dried up, leaving producers to haul water for livestock.
In eastern Tennessee, farmers at the Knoxville Livestock Auction were not interested in buying cattle, given the drought and the absence of pasture growth. Even weeds were not growing. Area farmers were only able to get two cuttings of hay, instead of the usual three.
Dry Conditions Causing Issues For Area Farmers, by Rafferty Cleary, News Talk 941 (Cookeville, Tennessee), Sept. 30, 2019
East TN cattle farmers feeling impact of drought-like conditions, by Kirstie Crawford, WATE-TV ABC 6 Knoxville (Tennessee), Oct. 2, 2019
Unseasonably hot, dry weather also led the Tennessee Division of Forestry to require permits for outdoor burning earlier than normal. The burn permit season typically runs from Oct. 15 through May 15, but the increased fire danger prompted the TDF to increase oversight of outdoor burning.
Burn bans issued, Tennessee burn permit season to begin early, by Slater Teague, WJHL-TV (Johnson City, Tennessee), Sept. 18, 2019
Agriculture, water quality concerns in Kentucky
Heat and dry weather have hurt agriculture and livestock across Kentucky. Pasture conditions were deteriorating and some farm ponds were drying up. Some producers in the southeast have sold cattle out of concern for hay supplies through the winter after hay feeding began two months early. Farmers markets in the southeast part of the state appeared to be on track to close by the end of September, although they normally remain open through October.
High Heat And Dry Conditions Stick Around Across Kentucky, by Stu Johnson, WEKU/WEKH/WEKF NPR & Classical Music (Richmond, Kentucky), Sept. 13, 2019
The low flow of the Kentucky River posed problems for those relying on the river for drinking water. In Frankfort, the water had a foul taste and odor, but was safe to drink. The Frankfort water provider initially posted about the water’s aesthetics on Facebook on Sept. 12. Kentucky American Water, supplying water to other cities in central Kentucky, also described an unpleasant taste and odor to the water on its Facebook page. Georgetown water customers were dealing with the same issues.
Plant Board addresses taste and odor in water, social media rumors, by McKenna Horsley, The State-Journal (Frankfort, Kentucky), Sept. 19, 2019
Water quality complaints in Georgetown, LEX18 Lexington KY News, Sept. 20, 2019
Virginia pastures, crop production down
Crops and livestock production in Virginia suffered amid a dry September. From far southwest Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley, farmers were lamenting poor pastures, feeding hay two to three months early and hauling water where supplies had dried up. Hay cuttings were smaller than normal. Calves were being sold early rather than allowing them to put on weight before sale. Corn yields were down.
More than half of Virginia is now in a moderate drought, straining the state's farmers, by Bob Brown, Prince George County, Virginia, Sept. 28, 2019
In southern Virginia, drought was very hard on tobacco and hay in Danville and the Pittsylvania County area. Cattle grazed down pastures, leaving farmers to supplement hay. One farmer noted that there wasn’t much hay and the quality wasn’t very good. Producers will need to buy hay from elsewhere or sell cattle.
Heat and drought also damaged the tobacco, adversely affecting quality and quantity. Buyers have warned that they will not buy or will offer lower prices for browned tobacco.
Unless miracle rain appears, Dan River Region headed for driest September on record as farms and landscapers struggle, by Caleb Ayers, Go Dan River.com (Danville, Virginia), Sept. 24, 2019
Flash drought also affected the level of the Potomac River running along the Virginia-Maryland border. The river was low enough to be safely crossed on foot at Point of Rocks, Maryland. The water level at the Point of Rocks gauge was just eight inches above the record low set in 1966.
Thanks to a flash drought, you can now cross from Virginia to Maryland without a boat or a bridge, by Scott Broom, WUSA9.com (Washington, D.C.), Sept. 27, 2019
Water supplies affected in West Virginia
Dry conditions in West Virginia elevated the fire danger and depleted water supplies. On Sept. 20, Gov. Jim Justice issued a statewide burn ban on most outdoor burning, due to drought and limited water supplies in some communities.
WVa governor bans most outdoor burning due to drought, by Associated Press, Sept. 20, 2019
Water supplies were low in Greenbrier and Union counties in the southeast part of the state as the Greenbrier River was low. Greenbrier County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management posted notices on its Facebook page on Sept. 29 and 30, urging residents to conserve water with the goal of avoiding mandatory restrictions.
Drought threatens drinking water supplies in Southern WV counties, by Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), Sept. 30, 2019
North Carolina water supplies low
Water supplies were low in western North Carolina, with some communities asking for water conservation. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, springs were flowing more slowly, prompting park authorities to warn hikers and campers to carry extra water. There were also a number of backcountry campsites without water. A temporary ban on backcountry campfires took effect to reduce the likelihood of wildfires.
Smokies place ban on backcountry fires, WATE-TV ABC 6 KnoxvilleWATE-TV ABC 6 Knoxville (Tennessee), Sept. 26, 2019
Water crisis in Alaska
At the start of September, several communities in southern Alaska were extremely low on water. On the Kenai Peninsula, a local disaster declaration had been issued for Seldovia and Nanwalek as drought dried up wells and reservoirs. Drinking water was delivered to several communities as towns sought solutions to their water crises. By the end of the month, sufficient rain had fallen to replenish water supplies.
Alaska communities used to have plenty of fresh water. Then came severe drought, by Kirsten Swann, Alaska Public Media (Anchorage), Sept. 4, 2019
Low water supply in two Kenai Peninsula communities prompts disaster declaration, by Tegan Hanlon, Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aug. 31, 2019
Water levels restored in Alaska communities hit by drought, by Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2019
For more drought info, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.