Too wet to build; too dry to farm, the weather in Hempstead County has a lot of people pondering the future.
Too wet to build; too dry to farm, the weather in Hempstead County has a lot of people pondering the future. The Hope School Board recently learned that its general contractor for a multi-million dollar expansion at Hope High School has asked for an additional 35 working days to complete the job because of wet weather. And, the completion of the new Hempstead Hall conference/auditorium venue on the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope campus was plagued, at one point, with wet weather. But, a statewide study of the beef cattle industry by the University of Arkansas released in September, 2012, indicated that drought conditions cost beef producers $128 million and created a three percent statewide selldown of herds, according to Arkansas Land and Life magazine. Yet, according to the Southwest Arkansas Research and Extension Center at Hope, rainfall for Hope proper has only recently hit normal levels. SWREC recorded 1.35 inches of rainfall for the period from 7 a.m. Monday through 7 a.m. today, the greatest single period of rainfall since the first of the year. Yet, that rainfall puts Hope above normal for the first two months of the year by only .15 inch. And, while the National Weather Service has issued severe thunderstorm warnings frequently since the first of the year, rainfall associated with them has not officially measured above one inch until Monday, the highest total being .99 inch on Jan. 13, according to SWREC. Officially, the National Weather Service office in Shreveport, La., says it's a maybe for the prospects of breaking a cycle of drought conditions going into the spring and summer months. “You have equal chances for any scenario, right now,” NWS Forecaster Gary Chatelain said this morning. “Spring is just getting started; and, everybody doesn't get clobbered at once.” The drought cycle which has gripped much of Arkansas, particularly Southwest Arkansas, for the past two years, is improving, he said. “The drought has definitely improved along I-30 and north,” Chatelain said. “It's still marginal, though, because you're talking about years of below normal rainfall.” The prospects remain marginal for farmers, according to Hempstead County Agricultural Extension Agent Steven Sheets. “We ended the year with a deficit; but, I feel like we're up a little bit,” Sheets said. “I don't think you ever really fix it; you just hope it keeps up in the warm weather.” He said a wetter winter opposed to a drier spring/summer has been the cycle for Hempstead County for the past couple of years. That affects different areas of the county in different ways, based mostly on soil composition, Sheet said, so that some areas are holding subsurface moisture better than others. “Our subsoil moisture is still lacking,” he said. And, that can be deceiving when ponds in some parts of the county are full and others are struggling to hold water. “It depends on the watershed of the pond,” Sheets said. Hay production, on the other hand, appears to have done well last year to the point that some producers have significant surpluses, but a fire ant quarantine during the summer prevented hay from being shipped out of the county in most cases.