A drought update Thursday didn’t offer much hope either: 61 percent of the contiguous U.S. was listed in drought, up from 56 percent last week, according to the National Weather Service’s Drought Monitor.
“Anytime we have a drought maturing in mid-summer, the chances for rapid intensification will be there,” Gary McManus, Oklahoma’s associate state climatologist, told msnbc.com. “Even normal heat and dry conditions can speed that drought along.”
Farmers from Iowa to Oklahoma in recent weeks have reported hay bales catching fire through spontaneous combustion.
Near Salix, Iowa, five fire departments responded to a hay fire on Tuesday that quickly consumed a storage facility, NBC affiliate KTIV reported.
While that can happen any time there’s moisture in hay mixed with heat, this summer is particularly dangerous after late spring rains provided the needed moisture in the hay.
“The chance of hay bales spontaneously combusting is higher when we’ve had a lot of rain,” Nigel Collinson, director of Agrical, a major insurance adjuster, told Farmers Weekly in June as the hay baling season was in full swing.
In western Oklahoma, where hay bales also recently burst into flames, the threat of brush and grassland fires is greater this year than last because the state enough spring rain to allow vegetation to grow.
“The rains allowed the growth to get up pretty good, so there are a lot of troubles this year,” Mike Karlin, assistant chief of the Weatherford Fire Department, told the Associated Press. “That moisture has gone and it’s gotten extremely dry out.
“We’re dealing with a situation that’s fast approaching what we saw last year,” he said, referring to the drought that started in 2010 and left much of the landscape cracked and dry.
In Indiana, water rationing has spread to Indianapolis. Plummeting reservoirs have led to a ban, starting Friday, on watering lawns with sprinklers. Plants, flowers and trees can still be watered with a hose.
Fines start at $100, increasing up to $2,500 for repeat offenders.
“If we have some people who are solidly abusing it we’re certainly going to make an example,” Mayor Greg Ballard told NBC affiliate WTHR-TV.
Indianapolis is going through its longest dry spell in 104 years of records, weather.com noted. Since June 1, just .09 inches of rain have fallen there, when the average is closer to 6 inches.
Nearly half of Indiana was listed as in “extreme drought” in the latest Drought Monitor, with the other half seeing either severe or moderate conditions.
In northeast Indiana, rainfall is up to 11 inches below normal for the last three months, the report stated.
Other parts of the Midwest are rationing water as well. In Kansas, the town of Russell this week approved restrictions. So too have many towns in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Rain is forecast for some drought areas over the next week, but overall the outlook remains grim.
“Unfortunately, parts of the Plains from the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas potentially eastward into Illinois and Indiana may see little significant rainfall over the next 5-7 days,” weather.com meteorologist Jon Erdman warned in his drought post.
“Rainfall is the cure,” added McManus, “but it is normally in short supply during July and August.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.