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July 2, 2013

Impact of drought of 2012 still lingers

Crops, trees and deer were hit hard; cooler weather this year boosts park visits

INDIANAPOLIS —

Last year’s relentless drought and scorching temperatures may seem like a distant nightmare for Hoosiers who suffered through it, but the effect can still seen in places like the Indiana Statehouse lawn, where four of the five towering tulip trees are coming down. 

The four dead trees — including one that may be nearly a century old — are casualties of the near-record, bone-dry weather that caused havoc across the Midwest last year.

But they’re not the only signs of the drought’s lingering impact, following a winter and spring that brought welcome wet relief. The residual effects range from high prices for livestock feed to dwindling supplies of Christmas trees to an unwelcome boost in invasive insects like the emerald ash borer. 

“It wasn’t the worst drought we’ve ever had,” said Al Shipe, who’s spent  37 years as a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Indiana. “But it’s the worst one I’ve ever seen.” 

At a press conference with state officials early last July, Shipe compared the drought of 2012 to the Dust Bowl years of the early 1930s. Along with the state fire marshal and the head of the state’s homeland security agency, he urged Hoosiers to stop worrying about the drought killing their lawns and to start worrying about wildfires breaking out in fields and forests. 

The lack of rainfall in April, May and June 2012 — resulting in a 6- to 10-inch rainfall deficit across the state — triggered burn bans in every county as communities canceled their Fourth of July fireworks displays and imposed mandatory water restrictions. By mid-July 2012, farmers in nearly half of Indiana counties were declared eligible for federal disaster relief because of the toll the drought took on crops and livestock. More would be added before the summer’s end.

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