Recent rain not enough as the heat goes on


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At Blackberry Meadows Farm near Natrona Heights, crops are going yellow in the heat. In the thick, humid air, the dried-out organic peas, kale and lettuce are also becoming dangerously welcoming to fungi and bacteria.

The situation will certainly not get better in the next few days. Another heat wave hits today, with high temperatures of 92 today and 91 Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

And while recent rain has eased conditions somewhat, the region remains under unusually dry conditions. The state Department of Environmental Protection decided Thursday to continue its drought watch for 15 counties in Western Pennsylvania including Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Washington.

The watch is the lowest of three warning levels, putting major water users on notice to begin planning to reduce water use.

However, while the U.S. Drought Monitor classified Pittsburgh and much of Western Pennsylvania as under a "moderate drought" for much of July, a report on Tuesday downgraded the region to only "abnormally dry," the lowest of five classifications.

"The recent rain has staved off it being more serious dry conditions," said Lou Giordano, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Moon.

By the end of July, about 7 inches of rain had fallen in the month in Pittsburgh, about 3 1/2 inches above average.

But it was not enough to overcome the damage done in June, which is supposed to be the wettest month but only saw 1.24 inches in Pittsburgh this year, about 3 inches below average.

It seems that the region will remain slightly drier than normal for the foreseeable future. "It's still dry, and there's no organized system coming that would make a change to that," Mr. Giordano said.

A thunderstorm Sunday is expected to end the extreme heat, though.

Today's heat is expected to trap pollution close to the ground, leading the DEP to issue an orange air quality alert for the region. The alert advises children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems to limit outdoor activities.

Seniors will be able to cool off at senior centers in Greenfield, Homewood, the South Side and Sheraden, which will extend their closing times to 7 p.m. today and Saturday.

The heat and drought have already taken a toll at Misera's Organic Farm in Butler. Owner Steve Misera said the heat has been tough on his chickens and cows. Dry conditions have also hit his hay and corn crops hard.

"They're just not getting as big," he said. "So the ears won't fill out as much and the hay's not as high as it should be." This year is even bringing back memories of the dry summer of 1988. "It's been a while since it's been this dry," he said. "I don't think it's as bad as '88, but it's been pretty tough."

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Peter Sullivan: psullivan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939. First Published August 3, 2012 4:00 AM


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