Drought conditions mean ‘We’re praying for rain’

Published 8:39 pm Saturday, October 22, 2016

Since January, 2016 has been one battle after another for Sherwood and Melinda Lyons.

They began the year moving their cattle to higher ground from their grazing areas among the backwater levees along Steele Bayou to escape the winter flood. In August, heavy rains prevented them from getting in the fields and cutting hay. Now nature has delivered another blow — drought.

“This drought is about to get us,” Sherwood Lyons said. “We’re praying for rain.”

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Vicksburg and Warren County have been without rain since late August.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor, most of Warren County, like the majority of Mississippi north of Jackson, faces severe drought conditions. A section of the county south of Vicksburg has moderate drought conditions. And the forecast calls for the situation to stay that way for some time.

And while the area had some small showers Wednesday and Thursday for the first time in almost two months, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service Office in Jackson said the rain dampening sections of the county are not enough the lessen the drought conditions in central and north Mississippi.

The rainfall we’ve received during the past week, said Weather Service hydrologist Marty Pope, was scattered, “So it probably, right now, will not give the big boost we would need for anything … it really probably shouldn’t do that much for us.

“Based on what we’re seeing here, it’s pretty well going to continue like this for a while,” Pope said. “I think the next event that we’re going to have any rainfall will probably be at the end of the month. There could be something toward the end of next week.”

October, he said, is normally the driest month of the year.

“The problem is we were extremely dry in September as well,” he said. “Luckily, we had some rain in August and that helped us somewhat, but all that (a dry September and October) together is killing us right now. When you go two months with very little rainfall, it doesn’t help you out any.”

And having those dry consecutive months has had a serious effect on the area, despite the county so far this year having received more rain than the annual rainfall total of 41.36 inches.

He said most of the predicted rainfall will actually go north of the county, according to computer models.

The drought forced city and county officials to issue burn bans early in October, with the city’s going into effect Oct. 5 and the county, Oct. 6. Jerry Briggs, county fire coordinator, and Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins said they have had few calls about grass fires during the dry weather.

“We’ve had a few grass fires on Interstate 20, Highway 61 and Highway 27, and we’ve had a few people burning trash who were not aware of the burn ban.” Atkins said.

“We’ve had a few fires and a few trash fires,” Briggs said. “The humidity has helped. I think we got the burn ban out early and made people aware of it, and the sheriff’s office is helping us greatly to enforce that and reminding people we are under a burn ban.”

Warren County agent Anna McCain with the Mississippi State Extension Service said the drought has not affected area crop farmers.

“Our drought conditions really started late August, early September,” she said, adding the area had good rainfall in June and July when a lot of the crops are setting fruit and pods.

“When we have good rainfall during those most critical times, we have good yields,” she said.“So the drought we’ve had over the last couple of months hasn’t really affected our row crop farmers in a negative way. It’s probably worked as a benefit in some cases, because they can get in and harvest their crops in a timely manner.

“We had a lot of great rain when we really needed it, and it got dry toward the end of the summer, but it was dry when we needed it to be dry, so we could get in there and harvest our crops,” she said.

She added farmers planning to plant winter crops like winter wheat are using the dry weather to prepare their fields for planting, which should run from mid-October to late November.

“As we wind up October, we should see some rain, so the conditions shouldn’t affect the crops unless something changes.”

But the situation for Lyonses and other cattle farmers, she said, is different, because the dry weather affects the hay and winter grasses grown and used to feed cattle, which could force farmers to start buying feed for their cattle.

“We’ve already begun feeding our cattle hay,” Sherwood Lyons said. “I hope I’ll have enough to make it through the winter. “

The couple said they usually begin cutting hay in August, but the rains during the month prevented them from getting out and cutting and baling.

“We’re doing it now, but that grass is tough,” he said.

Melinda Lyons pointed to one area of a field. “In August that grass was this tall,” she said, holding her hand up over her head. “It was hard to cut.”

Sherwood Lyons said floodwaters damaged his fences, which allowed the cows to get out and roam.

“They didn’t have anything to eat, so they started looking,” he said.

“We keep getting calls from 911 that our cattle are out,” his wife said.

“911 has us on speed dial,” Sherwood said with a smile, adding all his fences are now back up.

He said he plans to buy feed for his cattle and will be buying dried distillers’ grains with solubles from Ergon Biofuels where he works.

“It’s good feed, and I can buy it for less than I can feed from the feed store,” he said.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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