Evidently, when Roger Miller wrote the song “Little Green Apples,” it was considered absurd to suggest “it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.”
Not any more.
Thanks to a personality trait some might call obsessive and others simply nerdy, I have kept my own weather records for the past 20 years. Alongside notes on a calendar about my outdoor exploits and trends, I have also meticulously logged data regarding precipitation, temperature and trends.
One of the glaring facts my log reveals is that for the past decade it has been hotter and drier in Indiana. And this year is starting out worse than ever.
Thankfully, I am not the only one concerned and tracking the trend.
According to the USDA Drought Monitor, most of Indiana remains in drought conditions, despite isolated thunderstorms last weekend. It was also reported that the United States just experienced the warmest January to May in recorded history.
This is big news for farmers and other people who rely on precipitation to make a living, but also seriously impacts outdoor enthusiasts and the wildlife they protect.
Hopefully, we all learned a few tricks in 2010 when Indiana suffered the worst drought in 50 years. Unlike that drought, however, this warm, dry spell started a full month earlier.
Though bass and other shallow-water spawners were off their beds before this drought hit, lots of bluegills and tadpoles were still counting on shallow water for safety and reproduction.
Vernal pools that form in the spring and dry up most years are critical habitats for all sorts of amphibious creatures. There are several traditional pools on my farm that usually hold water until the Fourth of July. This year they are full of dead, dried-up tadpoles and salamanders.
Ponds on many Indiana properties are already drawn down to late summer levels. It is not uncommon for ponds in southern Indiana to already be 2 feet low with exposed bluegill beds.
As water levels lower and water temperatures rise beyond normal, weeds fill in, oxygen depletes and big fish of every species are the first to die.
While it is tempting to fish ponds during drought because fish are congregated in smaller pools, it is also more deadly. Fish literally fight themselves to death when hooked in abnormally warm water.
Animals and birds are equally stressed during drought periods because less food, water and cover are available. The lack of food causes reduced reproduction by adult animals.
Less food for adults also results in less food available for young wildlife, such as the production of milk by deer. With the production of less milk, more fawns may starve or succumb to diseases, parasites and predation.
For deer trophy hunters, there is even more bad news. This year’s early drought coincides with a crucial stage of antler development. Recent studies suggest a lack of water increases the number of spike deer, and also affects the overall growth of all antlers.
Early drought means less grass and tall weeds, which provides hiding cover for small wildlife, waterfowl nests and fawns, making them all more vulnerable to predators. Less water also hurts muskrats, beaver and other species, which may crowd them into smaller areas and make them more vulnerable to diseases, predators and competition with other members of their own species.
Drought is also associated with increases in insect infestations, plant diseases and wind erosion. As a result, farmers often use more chemicals, hurting not only their bottom line but also increasing the runoff into our waterways.
Forest and grass fire danger also dramatically increases during drought.
The good news about drought is that it can become a nonissue overnight with 24 hours of steady, light rain. If my unscientific logbooks are indicative of a trend, however, we are in for a hot, dry summer.
Don Mulligan writes Outdoors with Don for this newspaper. He can be reached at outdoor