Officially, a drought is an extended period of below-average water supply in a particular region, often created by inadequate precipitation (either rain or snow). That’s how it began for us in the Midwest: less snowfall than usual this past winter, an exceptionally dry and warm April, and no significant rain until May. Then disaster struck. June, normally a glorious month, with temperatures in the low to mid 70s, blasted in with weeks of temperatures exceeding 100°F during the day and staying in the high 80s to low 90s at night—and no rain. July temperatures continued in the 90s during the day, and no appreciable rain until the end of the month.
Perennials flagged; bloom periods were shortened. Even with supplementary watering—sometimes deep, daily watering—the guard cells surrounding plant stomata were in lock-down mode to conserve water. The barest amount of photosynthesis probably took place. Even the ever-tough daylilies bloomed for less than two weeks.
Newspapers have published a fair number of photographs showing drought-stricken corn fields and lightly-laden barges trying to navigate a much shallower Mississippi River. Sometimes, though, understanding the reality of how much moisture evaporates into the atmosphere requires a more local and personal experience.
For me, the shock occurred a couple of weeks ago, when temperatures finally moderated enough to enjoy an outing to my favorite bird-watching locale, a forest preserve just three miles from my home. Normally, the preserve’s two large ponds are home to migrating and seasonal ducks, egrets, several types of herons, and an assortment of birds. Suddenly, the water was simply gone: two to three feet of water had simply evaporated, and, in its place, nothing but weeds.
I don’t know when the waterfowl left or whether the forest preserve management has plans to restore the ponds. What I do know is that an entire small, but valuable, ecosystem was destroyed right in my neighborhood. We humans will find a way to manage the effects of the drought, I suppose, but the impact on wildlife remains unknown.