CLINTON - It is common for lakes, streams and rivers to fall a couple of feet during summer and autumn.
But it’s not common for the water temperature to be 87 degrees in July.
Granted, that followed mid-July’s intense heat wave and was recorded at Clinton Lake, one of the warmest in the area. It’s not exactly a way to beat the heat, is it?
“No,” said Illinois State climatologist Jim Angel. “The thing about a drought is that it affects so many different things in so many different ways. There is a sequence of concerns beginning with brown yards, moving on to crops and then, suddenly, your grocery bill is going to go up. You move on to concerns about water levels and directly affecting everyone’s lives. People have to battle a drought, but it’s not an easy fight.”
The temperature at Clinton Lake is now closer to the low 80s, but the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said significant fish kills have been reported at the lake and more are probably on the way.
“Extreme heat and drought combine with lower water levels reduce the oxygen available to fish,” said Dan Stephenson, IDNR fisheries biologist.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said most of Central Illinois is considered extreme drought. Forecasters say it could last through the fall.
“The weather patterns suggest we are going to have above-average heat and below-average precipitation through October,” said Chris Geelhart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we will think it will end in October. We just don’t have a good idea of the wintertime weather patterns yet.”
A drought is a complex physical and social phenomenon of widespread significance, Angel said. “The most straightforward way to identify a drought is by looking at the impacts such as crop losses, low water levels in lakes and streams, and water shortages, rather than specific definitions of shortfalls in precipitation,” he said.
Clinton Lake, for instance, is 2 to 4 feet below normal levels, but lake-watchers are not concerned. The lake is a cooling source for Clinton Nuclear Plant.
“The plant operated at 100 percent capacity in both June and July,” said Bill Harris, communications manager at the plant. “We monitor everything very closely and this plant and lake were built to accommodate drastic changes in weather patterns and we have seen very few changes this year. I am going to be interested to see how this all plays out, though. It will be very interesting to watch for changes in the environment as we head into the fall and winter.”
Other lakes, rivers and streams are much worse off and water restrictions — at least in some part — have been imposed in nearly every Central Illinois community.
“No two droughts are the same,” Angel said. “They all have their own personality. Every recent drought gets compared to 1988, but when you take a look at this current drought, you have to remember that we had a drier-than-normal fall, a very mild winter and a dry spring. In March, you could kick up dust. There were no piles of snow lying around, not even in parking lots.”
Geelhart said it will get worse before it gets better. Temperatures have been somewhat cooler, and most areas received about an inch of rain during the first weekend of August. But it had little or no impact.
“Water levels are low all over and other than putting water restrictions on residents, there isn’t much else you can do to limit the damage,” he said. “What we really need is a hurricane-type of system that moves north far enough that it just dumps a ton of rain on us over a couple of days.”
According to the most recent drought update from the National Weather Service, the Bloomington-Normal area is about 11 inches shy of its normal amount of rain for the year.
“What we are starting to realize now is that the focus is shifting off of agriculture and on to the water levels for lakes and water sources,” Angel said. “The crops are in poor shape and there is not much you can do. As we continue with this drought, people can really now start to see the lake levels dropping. When you see docks standing on dry land, then it hits people.”