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Rain, please?

August 31, 2012

I sure have experienced some interesting weather in the nearly three years I have lived here in the Nebraska Panhandle.

When we moved our stuff into our house in December 2009, we just squeaked in between blizzards. In 2010 and 2012, we got knocked by hail large enough to punch holes in the siding of our house.

Last summer, there was so much snowfall in the mountains and so much rain on the plains that the North Platte River was at flood stage for much of the season. This summer is the polar opposite.

According to the Cheyenne National Weather Service, Scottsbluff has had only 7.03 inches of precipitation since October 2011. The newspaper almanac says our year-to-date precipitation is at just 4.85 inches, compared to 12.29 inches in a normal year.

I have missed the rain so much, I actually got out of bed two nights ago to go stand in the brief shower that fell. But these scattered little showers don’t do much. A friend posted a picture of the result of one of these showers – widely-spaced damp spots on her deck – and hoped for Mother Nature to “connect the dots.”

I get ever-so-slightly annoyed when people from out of town comment about how good the crops look here compared to those in the east. The drought here is “severe to exceptional,” too. The only reason we have greenery is because of the stored snowmelt we were able to capture and distribute through irrigation reservoirs and canals. If we don’t get snow this winter, we’ll be in big trouble.

The dryland crops and rangeland is shot. Ranchers are selling off their cattle because there is nothing for the critters to eat. (The BBC even did a piece out here in western Nebraska.)

The fine, light-colored soils out here in the North Platte Valley are much different from the dark, rich soils I was used to in Illinois and Iowa. According to a map on this page, the soils here are considered “entisols” – a “primitive” “young” type of soil with little weathering, compared to the “old” prairie “mollisols.”

Here is what happens out here when exposed entisol gets dried out.


…YA! *poof* koffkoffkoff. Kinda dusty, especially when the wind blows. This stuff has the consistency of powdered sugar.

Beyond windblown dust in the air, there has been another, more insidious, contributor to poor air quality here recently. We have been under a red flag warning (high temps, low humidity) for quite some time.

People have prayed for rain, but the sky shot down fire instead. With all the dry grasses and dead trees (pine beetle outbreak damage), wildfire danger is high.

The northern Panhandle is burning, and the smoke has been coming south for a visit.

Here’s a hazy view of Scotts Bluff National Monument from the Farm And Ranch Museum yesterday afternoon:

And here is that same view about an hour earlier:

Where’d the bluff go??

We’re all praying for rain out here, hoping that the remnants of hurricane Isaac make it this far. But the 7-day forecast is showing clear and 90s.

At least we still have drinking water.

Excuse me while I go irrigate my vegetable garden . . .

Copyright 2012 by Katie Bradshaw

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2012 12:24 pm

    I heard a report on NPR this morning that some towns in Nebraska are in danger of running out of drinking water. Makes me very grateful that we can pull from the Ogallala Aquifer.

    The burn reports from up north are awful. Some of my co-workers were up at Chadron State Park yesterday helping fight that fire, and they took some pictures of where our bird banding station used to be. Makes me really worry what would happen if lightening were to strike somewhere in the Wildcat Hills.

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      September 2, 2012 9:58 am

      I’m glad the Wildcat Hills nature center at least got that tree thinning project near the building accomplished. Though I wonder if all those piles of dead trees are still up there – you make quite a pyre.

      • September 2, 2012 8:09 pm

        The tree piles are still there as we haven’t had enough rain or snow to allow for safe burning of the piles. But the piles are away from the nature center, so the building would be easily defended should fire come. (Easily in terms of fire-fighting at least).

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