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A season of extremesA season of extremes

My Take: From drought to flooding, we’ve seen it all this year, and it’s far from over.

Chris Torres

July 18, 2023

3 Min Read
A flooded road is seen on July 10, 2023 in Chester, Vermont
DEVASTATING FLOODING: A flooded road is seen in Chester, Vt. Torrential rain and flooding affected thousands of people in Vermont. Scott Eisen/Getty Images

This has already been a season to remember, and harvest is still a few months away.

Mother Nature has thrown curveball after curveball at us this season.

May was one of the driest springs I can remember, and data backs that up. According to the National Weather Service, it was the driest May ever in Harrisburg, Pa.; Wilmington, Del.; and Binghamton, N.Y.

I remember walking a wheat field in Berks County in early June and talking to a grower about his double-crop soybean plans. He said, “It depends on the weather.” I wonder if he decided to plant soybeans or not. I plan on checking in.

Then, in late May, an unusual freeze devastated orchards and vineyards in New York. Some vineyards lost more than half their wine grapes. Cornell University estimated that up to 15% of the state’s apple crop was lost, and that areas of the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City, lost between 30% and 35% of apples.

By late June, the dry weather forced government officials to act. For example, on June 15, Pennsylvania issued an official “drought watch” calling for voluntary water conservation.

Check out this map to see how dry the region got by late June:

This was shaping up to be a bad drought year.

Then, the heavens opened. Late June brought storms and much-needed rain to most of the region. Last week’s storms plowed through my area of Lebanon County, and we got 2-3 inches of rain in just an hour or two.

In neighboring Berks County, I saw reports of 5 to 6 inches of rain in a span of just a few hours. That much rain, while welcome, is too much in a short period of time. Reports of flash flooding, and the damage caused by it, were everywhere.

But that was nothing compared to the devastating flooding event in Vermont. The same storm system that gave my area some much-needed rain caused rivers to overflow and dams to breach in the Green Mountain State. Look at these rainfall totals from the National Weather Service:

  • Newport, Vt.: 11.04 inches

  • Stowe, Vt.: 11.62 inches

  • Shrewsbury, Vt.: 15.92 inches

  • Island Pond, Vt.: 16.64 inches

According to the National Weather Service, 1 inch of rain equals roughly 13 inches of snow. So, if you live in Island Pond and this event would have happened in winter, you would have gotten 208 inches of snow. That’s a lot of water!

Whatever your views on climate change, it’s time to acknowledge that these weather patterns are not normal. I mean, we meant from potentially a terrible drought to a record-breaking flooding in a span of a few weeks. Remember California earlier this winter? Their megadrought was finally broken, but we’re talking years, or even two years’ worth of rain falling in a span of days or weeks.

I don’t care how great your soil management practices are. I just don’t see how farmers can manage for something like this, let alone plan for it.

The good news is that a bad, widespread drought has likely been avoided, although some places still need some rain.

Check out the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map:

The bad news: We still have a lot of growing season left, and plenty of chances for Mother Nature to throw some more curveballs at us.

Every year on the farm is a gamble, especially when growing crops. But a little bit of relief from this insane weather would be nice, welcome reprieve.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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