SOUTH BEND — A dry and hot Memorial Day weekend forecast has everyone from farmers to the state fire marshal concerned, as parts of Indiana, particularly in the northeast and southwest, have had an abnormally dry spring.
The National Weather Service reports it has been the driest spring on record in Fort Wayne, which has received only 4.99 inches of rain since March 1 — 5.51 inches below normal. It's South Bend's eighth driest spring, with just 5.4 inches of rain. And Evansville has received just 5.92 inches of rainfall since March 1, 6.68 inches below normal.
"We're on the verge of going on a drought situation, but we're not at that point in time," associate state climatologist Ken Scheeringa said. "I think if it does not rain here in the next few days, I'd say it's very possible we might slip into that."
The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that of Indiana's 92 counties, 24 in the northeast and 15 in the south are listed as abnormally dry. Part of Posey County, in the far southwest corner, is listed as being in moderate drought.
The lack of rain is stressing crops in some areas of the state, as the soil rapidly dries out in hot weather, said Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen.
"We can say it's early in the season, so there's plenty of time to recover. ... But at the same time, it's fair to say it's not in a good position to be in at this time," he said.
It's better to have the dry weather now than later in the season when crops are pollinating, Nielsen said.
Fire Marshal Jim Greeson warns that the dry conditions can cause fires to spread quickly and urges Indiana residents to use caution during the holiday weekend with fireworks, cookout and bonfires.
"In these dry conditions, fires can ignite and spread very quickly," he said.
It hasn't been quite as dry in central Indiana, but rainfall is still below normal. Indianapolis has received 11.48 inches of rain since March 1, just 1.78 inches below normal. Rainfall in Terre Haute is 5.6 inches below normal, which has led Vigo County officials to issue a burn ban. In Bloomington, rainfall is 4.95 inches below normal. In northwest Indiana, precipitation in Valparaiso is 3.55 inches below normal.
The lack of rain has led to the state Department of Natural Resources closing the beach at Salamonie Lake in Andrews, 30 miles southwest of Fort Wayne. The DNR also is discouraging water skiing because the lake is 14 feet below normal, leaving water skiers more vulnerable to underwater hazards.
Scheeringa said there doesn't seem to be much relief in sight.
"It's quite possible in the next week or two that we could fall into more of a drought pattern," he said.