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Dust storms and withered leaves: Illinois' mini-drought

Dust storms and fire danger alerts are not what you expect to hear in May in Illinois. But these are signs of a very dry spring. 

Last week, the U-S Department of Agriculture’s Drought Report rated portions of northwest and southwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin as “abnormally dry.” That’s just shy of drought conditions. High temperatures and a lack of rain are to blame, in part, according to John Moors of Rockford’s Klehm Arboretum: he says he also suspects it has to do with the lack of snowfall this winter. That kept soil moisture fairly superficial.

Moors says usually at Klehm, they only water newly-planted trees, but since it has been so dry, they are now looking at watering trees planted last year and the year before. Farmers and gardeners could get some relief soon, with rain in the forecast this week. If the rainfall isn’t substantial, Moors recommends a thorough watering so plants can establish deep roots. He says that’s an inch of water for lawns, and even more for trees. He suggests using a straight-sided can -- like a tuna can -- and a ruler as a rain gauge.


Moors says to watch for curling, drooping leaves and “things that look thirsty,” but don’t be fooled by plants that are just withering a bit in the heat. He says to pick up a handful of soil and feel to make sure it’s actually dry.  He says the best rule of thumb for watering plants is to do it thoroughly, then let it dry out a bit between thorough waterings.

Angela Harden is a statistician with the US Agricultural Department. She says so far, farmers have been able to take advantage of the hot dry weather to plant their crops. But if there isn’t a substantial amount of rain soon, those crops could begin to suffer.

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.