SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The corn stalks in some unirrigated fields in Posey County in southwestern Indiana are so frail from the drought that any rain or wind might just knock them over, an extension service educator says.
"Our corn is pretty well done. Any rain we get now is going to help just a very small percentage of the corn crop. We feel like our yields have already taken the hit we're going to get, regardless of how much rain we get between now and this fall," Jon Neufelder said Thursday.
Posey County and neighboring Vanderbugh County are the only two Indiana counties listed as being in "exceptional drought" on the new U.S. Drought Monitor report. The report shows nearly 30 percent of Indiana is in severe drought, adding Indianapolis and several nearby counties to the list that already included counties in northeastern and southwestern parts of the state. Overall, more than 80 percent of the state is listed in extreme drought.
Despite that, a group of state officials met Thursday and decided against expanding the water shortage warning area issued earlier for 32 counties — 18 in the northeast and north-central parts of the state, and 14 in the southwest corner. Phil Bloom, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the officials decided to wait and reassess the situation early next week, with the state expecting to get some rain.
The National Weather Service is predicting a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms in the Indianapolis area on Friday and Saturday and 40 percent chance on Sunday. In northern Indiana, South Bend had a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday and Sunday. In southern Indiana, Evansville showers and thunderstorms were likely Friday and there was a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms on Sunday.
Weather service hydrologist Al Shipe, though, was doubtful it would provide much relief.
"We're at the point now of, show me the rain before we get too optimistic," he said.
After 16 straight days with temperatures of 90 degrees or higher in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, the highs Friday are expected to be in the 80s. The streak of 90-plus degree days was the longest ever in Fort Wayne and the fourth longest for Indianapolis.
Indiana farmers in 55 drought-stricken counties got some good news then they found out they will be eligible for disaster assistance under changes made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA has announced it was streamlining the process for farmers to apply for disaster help, making more than 1,000 counties nationwide eligible for assistance. A map released by the USDA shows primary disasters are being declared in 36 counties in Indiana and 19 contiguous counties.
The eligible primary counties are in 20 northeastern counties — as far west as St. Joseph and Pulaski counties and as far south as Carroll and Howard counties — and in 16 southwestern counties — as far east as Crawford County and as far north as Sullivan, Greene and Lawrence counties. Farmers in adjacent counties also are eligible.
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said the state will continue to monitor counties that have not yet received disaster designation and will ask the USDA to add counties to the list.
Water restrictions take effect Friday in Indianapolis and some other towns and cities. The restrictions in Indianapolis include a ban on washing vehicles except at commercial car washes, filling swimming pools and installing new landscaping. The restrictions do not apply to vegetable or flower gardens or to nurseries, commercial car washes, golf courses, parks or people with wells.
Water companies and others that use more than 100,000 gallons of water a day that are in the 32 counties under a water shortage warning are supposed to voluntarily cut back on water use by 10 to 15 percent. The rest of the state is under a water shortage watch, meaning users should try to cut back by 5 percent.
"Everybody can do something to help stretch the water supply," Bloom said.
Low water levels caused by the drought are leading to reports of fish kills throughout Indiana, Bloom said. The kills are being caused by warming water and low water levels. He says there have been reports of kills ranging from five fish in the 18- to 24-inch range in the Tippecanoe River near Winamac in Pulaski County, 60 miles southwest of South Bend, to hundreds of fish at Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area in Johnson County, 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
Bloom says there might be one positive coming out of the low water levels, though. He says the DNR is receiving reports of Asian carp becoming trapped in backwaters off the Wabash River in southern Indiana and dying off.
"I don't have any information on numbers or precise locations," he said. "It's been well-documented the potential fish those fish can bring and do bring. So if they're getting trapped up there and dying, that's a good thing."