Sure do wish Gene Kelly was still here

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sure do wish Gene Kelly was still around. We need him in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas to lead us in a rousing rendition of "Singin' in the Rain."

In a change that borders on the miraculous, steady soaking July rains have transformed this area's grainlands from withering patches of wheat to tall, lush fields of great-looking corn, milo and soybeans.

The showers Thursday night and this morning kept a wonderful wet streak going, with the month-to-date rainfall total in McCook reaching 7.24 inches as of midnight. That's three times more than normal. That's right ... three times.

According to Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Goodland, the average precipitation amount during the first 22 days of July is 2.40 inches. When you do the arithmetic you discover that July month-to-date rainfall is 4.84 inches over normal.

The moisture -- which has ranged from drizzles to downpours -- has lifted year-to-date precipitation in McCook to 16.70 inches, putting the community more than three inches over the average rainfall to date of 13.65 inches.

The effect on crops? Magnificent.

"It's been wonderful," said Mark Friehe, McCook branch manager for Frenchman Valley Co-op, Inc. "We have the potential to have a really good corn and milo crop."

Just a little over a month ago, the outlook didn't look nearly so bright. "The pastures were turning brown and the corn and milo crops were struggling to get started," Friehe said. But then the rains came, and came again, and kept coming.

According to Burke, the meteorologist, the odds are that the rainy period will continue. "Wet periods like this feed on themselves," he said. "The wet ground produces more humidity, which helps generate additional rainfall." Burke added: "We've studied similar rainy periods in the past and they have usually resulted in extended rainy periods." That translates into a prediction of above average rainfall for the month to come, he said.

Just how good a year will this be for grain farmers? We already know the answer for wheatgrowers: far below average. But, because of the July rains, there are some mighty high hopes for corn and milo growers. If disaster doesn't strike -- in the form of insect infestations or damaging weather -- yields topping 100 bushels per acre for dryland corn and 200 bushels per acre for irrigated fields could become commonplace in this area.

If that happens, we will need to remember the glorious rainfall of July when we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner. Because -- in a short, three-week span in mid-year -- steady showers have uplifted our attitudes. After suffering through the drought for so long, we are finally finding ourselves daring to hope for greener pastures and bin-busting crop yields.

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